Transforming professions for the common good

Transforming professions for the common good

Feb 27, 2019

How often have you heard folks complaining about the rising price of vegetables, fruit and fish? And when they do tuck into a meal, many have this nagging worry at the back of their minds about the use of pesticides.

These days, we received lots of images on social media about vegetables and fruit being sprayed with lots of pesticide instead of being more organically grown. These pesticides may enter our food chain, and who knows how much harm they cause in the long run.

Meanwhile, forest land, including native customary land, is encroached upon by timber companies and unsustainable plantations which reduce biodiversity.

Land reclamation destroys sea grass (fish-breeding patches) and traditional fishing grounds. In its place, less sustainable aquaculture (intensive fish farms) have spread. High-end property developers have displaced villages and traditional farms, forcing us to import more of our food from abroad. This property development frenzy is taking place at a time when our population is barely growing by much given that the total fertility rate has dipped below the population replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman.

The private car industry – car manufacturers, highway builders, petrol industry – has diverted previous resources away from promoting more sustainable forms of transport. Hence a large chunk of household income goes to expenses related to maintaining a car or motorbike, in the process making it more difficult to cope with the cost of living.

These are all symptoms of an economy gone off the tracks and undermining the quality of life. The overriding motivation to make more money and profits without considering the impact on the environment and workers has taken its toll on society.

In the relentless drive to make more money and profits, we have given too much focus on sectors that we think are more profitable, while neglecting those smaller sectors that we think are less desirable.

So fishing and farming are now seen as less desirable professions. Even teaching and nursing, once regarded as a respected professions have fallen down the pecking order.

Many young people are now gravitating to the higher-paying professions in our capitalistic economy. Perhaps for many this has something to do with securing their future in a world where they have to cope with a higher cost of living, higher private healthcare costs, expensive housing prices, the higher cost of raising a child.... Thus the thinking is that young people today need to earn a lot more money to have a hope of leading a decent life, with all the trappings of modernity (eg the latest hi-tech gadgets and conveniences).

Something else has happened. The capitalistic, consumer-driven economic system has destroyed community solidarity and created a more self-centred mindset. It is every person for himself or herself!

In the process, professions like teaching, fishing and farming have dropped in the eyes of the public whereas, when you think about it, educating the young and providing food for the people should be professions that ought to have the highest value.

Instead, some time ago, the agriculture university was renamed (because the perception of agriculture and farming had dropped) and so the university lost its focus on farming and agriculture. This is a pity as we know that our rainforests contain a treasure trove of species that could been used for the benefit of humanity and healing. Our land is fertile enough to produce an abundant harvest of organic crops instead of relying on chemical pesticides and food imports.

This downgrading of perceptions need not be the case. For instance, in Finland, renowned for its education system, teaching is a highly regarded profession and teachers are selected from the top 10 per cent of graduates.

During Jesus’ earthly ministry, he spent more of his time with people whose professions put them at the lower ends of the social hierarchy – the fisherfolk, the artisans, the farmers, the homemakers, the shepherds.

In his interactions with them, he not only empowered them individually, he also showed them there was nothing to be ashamed of their professions and their work. In fact, his first disciples came from among the ranks of the lowly fisher folk. And so it was he actually helped them to increase their haul on one occasion and even cooked fish by the seashore after his Resurrection.

He even mingled with the tax-collector and the centurion and scribes – symbols of oppressive Roman rule and a religious authority that was burdening the people. It was not the professions per se that were deplorable but how they had been used to burden and oppress the people.

Even tax collection — provided it is under a progressive taxation system — can be used to uplift society, promote community solidarity and reduce glaring inequalities. Property developers can build more genuinely affordable homes instead of focusing mostly on high-end homes (which has resulted in the present glut). Motor vehicle engineers can put their talents to good use to design better public transport vehicles that improve public transport and sustainable mobility.

So no matter what profession we are in, if the focus changes from the selfish pursuit of profit to more socially oriented goals that boost community solidarity, “what a wonderful world it would be”!

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