Chores and the idea of service
by Beverley Paine
The thing that is missing from most conversations about chores is the word 'service'. Service to self, others, and the environment (other living things). Chores are the essential work of surviving and thriving. There are a lot of chores which humans have created over millennia that are, to my way of thinking, absolutely non-essential (like high-paid paper pushing jobs and driving a rig that is trucking uranium ore out of the ground, but I'm being a tad judgemental there...), but the ones that we do at home, the ones this discussion is talking about, well, they are the work of simply living. And to make sense and to be meaningful to our children chores need to be the work of simply living and living simply.
For example, we don't wash the windows more than once a year because in our environment they really only need washing once a year to serve their purpose... When the quality of light is starting to dim and our view is getting slightly obscured by the accumulated dust, moth dirts and salt we wash the windows. If we do it more often than that birds fly into them and knock themselves silly, and sometimes dead. Our windows are there for fresh air, light and to enjoy the view. Not to impress us or visitors with how sparkling and clean they look (even though I do love and enjoy sparkling clean windows when I see them). My children grew up with me rationalizing about all the different jobs we needed to do to keep the place running effectively and efficiently - they know and understand the reasons why people do these things (and why some people do them differently or more or less frequently, because everyone has different needs and values).
I wish I'd instilled a sense of service into myself when my kids were very young and that we'd started off family life understanding the importance of it. I honestly think there is a class system legacy that has polluted the idea of service and which poisoned my parents' generation (English - may not apply to that generation from other parts of the world). To be seen to be cleaning or shovelling dirt or any kind of menial or labouring task meant admission of one's economic position in society - poor or working class status. My mum was 'in service' for the first part of her working life, a servant. She hated the thought of her children (or grandchildren) ending up doing that kind of work. I think that generation wanted their descendants to go to uni to earn enough money to be able to pay others to do the 'chores', the simply everyday work we all need to do to survive and thrive. So there has been a societal wide aversion to doing the chores for a few generations now...
Doing the chores is giving service to ourselves, our family, friends and neighbours and to our environment. We need to take the judgement out of the word 'chore' - it's not something we have to do, it's something we need to do, to look after ourselves, others and our environment. It's looking after what we value.
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