What Exactly is Your Job?

Last weekend, I had the joy of seeing members of the Norwich Stonemasons' Guild perform a Mystery Play outside the doors of the Cathedral.  It was a warm, sunny afternoon, a brief summer interlude before putting our coats, scarves and gloves back on in time for June.  The first Mystery Play to be acted by a Norwich guild for five hundred years – Cain & Abel.

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As an eager crowd gathered outside the Mediaeval Benedictine cathedral, the Beadle of the Guild, in his black velvet cap and cloak, and gold-tipped staff, announced, in imperative tones, "You will enjoy it. You will laugh," triggering the first giggles among the willing audience.

I couldn't begin to describe the sheer delight and fun of this ten-minute performance.  I couldn't do justice to its highly imaginative props, to the brightly-coloured, makeshift set, to the hysterically funny performance by the actors, who, fuelled by the audience's laughter, gave into corpsing themselves, thereby increasing the overall giggling.  There was something so earthy about the whole event, so uniting.  Inevitably, I thought of the Mechanicals of Athens performing Pyramus and Thisbe.  An unwitting trigger to laughter was also the organ player in the Cathedral, where that evening's concert was being rehearsed, whose notes from Fauré's Requiem thundered through the stone walls at a couple of appropriate Biblical moments.

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At the end of the performance, after the cheers and bows, the Clerk came on and spoke of the history of this Guild, and repeated the last line of the performance, "Perfection in an imperfect world." Summa Inter Mediocria, the St Stephen and St George's Guild motto.

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These words sent a tingle up my spine.  I often walk past the Church of St Clement, and catch a glimpse of the stonemasons at work, complete with their square white caps.  Everything about their body language and that of the Master Stonemason who supervises them oozes something we seldom see nowadays: fierce pride in one's work.  A refusal to produce anything less than as perfect a job as any human can aspire to.

Over the days that followed, I pondered over something that has been much on my mind, recently.  Job titles.  Pride in one's job. A sense of achievement when performing a task.  The refusal to compromise quality and "make do".

Stonemason.  Baker.  Translator.  Writer.  Carpenter.  Lawyer.  Priest.  Journalist.  Teacher.  Actor.  The words immediately tells me clearly what the jobs entail.  It took me ages to work out what a CEO did.  Chief Executive Officer.  What's that? What's wrong with "boss"? Or MD.  Managing Director.  What is "manage", exactly? Is it to regulate? To direct? To organise? When I taught Business English, the majority of my clients' job titles weren't words but abbreviations.  I often had to ask them what they did exactly and, in most cases, still couldn't put my finger on what precisely their professions involved.  After many a lengthy explanation, I frequently yearned to ask "What do you actually make? What is the tangible, physical result of your work?"

I once worked for an oil company for two months.  The second month was to work out my notice.  My job title was also an abbreviation.  Much of it seemed to involve entering long serial numbers into a computer.  I wasn't quite sure why.  One day, when one of the top honchos of the company circulated through our department, shaking everyone's hand, and asking what they did, I embarrassed myself.  His question suddenly stumped me and I replied, "I don't know.  I'm not really sure what I do." He laughed politely, probably assuming I was joking, but I was totally serious.  Inappropriate for the occasion, but serious.  I had no idea what I actually did.  I couldn't be proud of a job I didn't understand.

Recently, at the London Book Fair, I asked a woman if she was a publisher.  She replied, "No.  I facilitate publishing."

I stared, totally at a loss.  What's "facilitating publishing" when it's at home?

In one of the very executive London language schools I used to teach ("executive" – another hermetic word for me – executing what?), we weren't called teachers but "trainers".  I wondered if the management considered the word "teacher" to be too authoritative, too passé, or – what the heck – too politically incorrect.  Similarly, students were referred to as "course participants".  I went around feeling like a rubber sports shoe, facilitating learning rather than teaching – which is what I'd signed up to do when I qualified in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (there, the word is "teaching"!).  As for "course participants" as opposed to "students", the difference in connotation made me somewhat uncomfortable, the latter suggesting in my mind individuals who were simply required to attend my classes and not necessarily learn from them.

Other job titles that have recently puzzled me are "Community Banker" referring to the advisors/clerks at my local bank, "Presentation Team" printed on the uniforms of cleaners,   and anything with the nouns "Consultant", "Executive", "Corporate" and "Officer" (outside the military) attached.

Stonemason.  Baker.  Translator.  Writer.  Carpenter.  Lawyer.  Priest.  Journalist.  Teacher.  Actor.  These I understand.  But perhaps I'm too simple-minded.

Scribe Doll

Comments 4

 
Rosy Cole on Wednesday, 08 June 2016 16:03

It seems that there's a resurgence of interest in the Mystery Play, and in going on Pilgrimage which I understand is gathering momentum around the world. This is probably not unconnected with your point about aspirational titles and sinecures created for fiscal reasons.There's a proliferation now of faceless 'middle men' and entrepreneurs ready to jump on someone else-s bandwagon and 'add value' which means achievement becomes further and further removed from the jobs done. Profit is the overriding criterion. Being 'in business' used to mean creating congenial work for x number of fairly paid employees, with a good standard of living for them and the employer. Any profit was ploughed back into the business.

Gone are the days when skills conferred a pride in identity and a distinct place in the community, a chance to contribute and chance to discover life-truths through learning and application.

To go on a pilgrimage, you need to know who you are and why you're going, at least in some significant measure. Motives aren't always the purest, but a pilgrimage will find out for its followers who they really are.

The Mystery Play bring to mind the Commedia dell'arte too.

Interesting! Thanks!

It seems that there's a resurgence of interest in the Mystery Play, and in going on Pilgrimage which I understand is gathering momentum around the world. This is probably not unconnected with your point about aspirational titles and sinecures created for fiscal reasons.There's a proliferation now of faceless 'middle men' and entrepreneurs ready to jump on someone else-s bandwagon and 'add value' which means achievement becomes further and further removed from the jobs done. Profit is the overriding criterion. Being 'in business' used to mean creating congenial work for x number of fairly paid employees, with a good standard of living for them and the employer. Any profit was ploughed back into the business. Gone are the days when skills conferred a pride in identity and a distinct place in the community, a chance to contribute and chance to discover life-truths through learning and application. To go on a pilgrimage, you need to know who you are and why you're going, at least in some significant measure. Motives aren't always the purest, but a pilgrimage will find out for its followers who they really are. The Mystery Play bring to mind the [i]Commedia dell'arte[/i] too. Interesting! Thanks!
Katherine Gregor on Friday, 10 June 2016 20:41

Thank you for commenting, Rosy. Interesting, I didn't know about the resurgence of pilgrimages.

Thank you for commenting, Rosy. Interesting, I didn't know about the resurgence of pilgrimages.
Ken Hartke on Saturday, 11 June 2016 17:32

My daughter walked 200 kilometers (just a fraction of the total) on the Camino Santiago last November...a pilgrimage to the tomb of St. James in Campostela. Many do this for religious reasons but many also are out there walking in search of a reason -- as in my daughter's case. Somehow, putting one foot in front of the other day after day she found her reason...maybe her soul (or something like it?)...and returned a settled and happier person.

The idea of guilds performing plays is interesting. I remember my aunt, a theatrical person of many talents, leading the members of the International Ladies Garments Worker's Union in plays in a basement theater at the ILGWU union hall. They had a space set aside in the union hall to stage plays which might connect back to the old idea of guild performances.

As far as job titles go, I spent a few years as a "Coordinator" which entailed begging people to do 'stuff' and later I was promoted to "Director" so I no longer had to beg.

My daughter walked 200 kilometers (just a fraction of the total) on the Camino Santiago last November...a pilgrimage to the tomb of St. James in Campostela. Many do this for religious reasons but many also are out there walking in search of a reason -- as in my daughter's case. Somehow, putting one foot in front of the other day after day she found her reason...maybe her soul (or something like it?)...and returned a settled and happier person. The idea of guilds performing plays is interesting. I remember my aunt, a theatrical person of many talents, leading the members of the International Ladies Garments Worker's Union in plays in a basement theater at the ILGWU union hall. They had a space set aside in the union hall to stage plays which might connect back to the old idea of guild performances. As far as job titles go, I spent a few years as a "Coordinator" which entailed begging people to do 'stuff' and later I was promoted to "Director" so I no longer had to beg.
Katherine Gregor on Saturday, 11 June 2016 20:45

Your daughter's experience sounds wonderful and useful. I've never been on a pilgrimage. However, there's something about walking a long distance that I find definitely clears my head.

May I recommend a brilliant book about Rory Stewart called 'The Places in Between'?

Thanks for stopping by.

Your daughter's experience sounds wonderful and useful. I've never been on a pilgrimage. However, there's something about walking a long distance that I find definitely clears my head. May I recommend a brilliant book about Rory Stewart called 'The Places in Between'? Thanks for stopping by.
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Latest Comments

Monika Schott Losing The Compass
13 January 2020
Beautifully said, Rosy. Cheers to you. X
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04 January 2020
Thank you! It was! Glad you enjoyed! :-)
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Thanks, Stephen. And a fabulous 2020 to you.
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Stunning - what a wonderful p;lace to celebrate Christmas.
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Congratulations on completing your research and best wishes for your next adventure!