Looking over yesterday’s post, I thought a little about the type of work being done.  Real physical labor.  After a full day of threshing, you know you’ve been working.  Both your body and your mind are telling you so.

As for me, well, I teach and I write.  I don’t belong to a threshing ring, or really do any regular manual labor.  I don’t think operating a keyboard counts as “working with my hands”.

Is this a bad thing?

It certainly affects lifestyle.  To get the exercise my forefathers got on the job, I run.  My burning of calories doesn’t create anything tangible.  What it does is clear my head, refresh my body, and sometimes bring me new ideas.  It also makes me physically tired enough to sleep well at night.

I explain how this works to my Amish friends.  They get it, though I wonder if they ever smile inside at the thought of it.  Running in circles to make yourself tired…(though some Amish would join me, I’m sure).

I’ve quite enjoyed the times I’ve done field work with Amish.  You are using senses and muscles you normally don’t.  These jobs make you aware how tender bits of your body become (palms, shoulders) when you’re not working with them regularly.  You’re sore and scratched up afterwards, but in a good way.  You got something done.

After this kind of toil, I usually feel great.  This is one plus of much physical work.  Fresh air and healthy exercise.  Little worry about carpal tunnel syndrome and weight gain.  I also think we have an innate need to create, and manual jobs fulfill that need well.  At the end of the day you see a finished field or a new foundation.  A full day of paperwork doesn’t quite bring the same satisfaction.

On the other hand, some manual jobs lead to injuries.  Some are repetitive and boring, unhealthy or downright dangerous.

HammerWe don’t really have as many manual jobs in today’s America, it seems, jobs where you dig or move or make things.  The trend is in the opposite direction.  Some buck the trend.  I do know a bank employee who switched to home remodeling because he preferred the work.  I think that type of example is not so common though.

The long-term decline of the family farm has wiped out a lot of that manual work.  Automation and cheap imports (why repair, just buy a new one) have reduced the need for craftsmen.  “Craftsmanship”, for that matter, is maybe not quite the same as manual labor, but in a similar category.  I’d consider both of them some form of “working with your hands”, though.

How many people will be working with their hands a generation or two from now?  Amish are one population still having a high percentage of manual workers and craftspeople.  The popularity of things like Amish furniture and quilts may offer one clue to the future.  More people wanting handmade quality.

As for me, I would appreciate a little better quality in general.  In just the past week, I’ve had a brand-new water heater, a Kindle, and a nearly-new vacuum all break.  Maybe I’m on a particularly bad run of luck, or maybe things just aren’t made that well anymore.

Of course quality costs more, but if society continues to become better off (if), demand for the work of such people may grow.  I think a similar trend may affect farmers who grow specialty produce, including organics.

What about you–does your job qualify as “working with your hands”?  Do you craft something, fix something, build something–or know someone who does?

And for that matter, what do we count as working with your hands?  What about a chef, an animal trainer, or a fireman?  It seems like you could make a case for and against a number of jobs.

Hammer photo: Falon Yates/flickr