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Hands On

Posted By Alex Belth On May 28, 2009 @ 11:44 am In Bronx Banter | Comments Disabled

There was an interesting article in the Times magazine last weekend [1] about the benefits of working with your hands:

A gifted young person who chooses to become a mechanic rather than to accumulate academic credentials is viewed as eccentric, if not self-destructive. There is a pervasive anxiety among parents that there is only one track to success for their children. It runs through a series of gates controlled by prestigious institutions. Further, there is wide use of drugs to medicate boys, especially, against their natural tendency toward action, the better to “keep things on track.” I taught briefly in a public high school and would have loved to have set up a Ritalin fogger in my classroom. It is a rare person, male or female, who is naturally inclined to sit still for 17 years in school, and then indefinitely at work.

The trades suffer from low prestige, and I believe this is based on a simple mistake. Because the work is dirty, many people assume it is also stupid. This is not my experience. I have a small business as a motorcycle mechanic in Richmond, Va., which I started in 2002. I work on Japanese and European motorcycles, mostly older bikes with some “vintage” cachet that makes people willing to spend money on them. I have found the satisfactions of the work to be very much bound up with the intellectual challenges it presents. And yet my decision to go into this line of work is a choice that seems to perplex many people.

My mother’s father was a mechanic (His wife did not approve; she thought it was beneath her to be married to a man who got his hands dirty for a living).

I have never had any interest in taking things apart and figuring out how how they work. If something breaks I pay someone to fix it. For the longest time I thought I was less of a man because I wasn’t inclined to fix, construct or build things. In many ways, I didn’t have much in common with my grandfather but I always admired him, the breadth of his knowledge, his casual confidence. He was a true artisan.

This article made me think of my grandfather. It made me stop and appreciate his calling.


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[1] an interesting article in the Times magazine last weekend: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/24/magazine/24labor-t.html?ref=magazine

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