- Manual work formerly given to slaves.
- Manual work now free labour; but still looked down upon by some.
- Distinction between manual and mental work misleading.
- The dignity of honest labour.
By “labour” we generally mean manual work; that is, work done with the hands, as distinguished from mental work, or work done with the head. In ancient times manual labour was looked down upon, and the manual worker was treated as an inferior being. Most ancient states were based upon slave-labour. Even the Greek city-states consisted of a small number of free citizens, who devoted themselves to the higher arts and professions, and left all manual labour to slaves. And yet it was ancient Greece that taught the world lessons of political liberty and self-government! In modern times slavery has been abolished by all civilized countries; yet a hundred years ago slavery still existed as a recognized institution.
Manual labour is recognized today, at least in theory, as being worthy of free citizens; and no stigma attaches to a man because he works with his hands rather than with his head. And yet the leisured classes still look down on the working classes, whom they call the “lower” classes. And many a young man of the middle class would rather wear a black coat and sit on an office stool at a paltry salary, than soil his hands and earn double the money as an artisan.
This contempt of manual labour is absurd and wrong, and the distinction between manual and mental work is misleading. All manual work, even so-called engineer, the builder and the potter is really as much mental as manual. It takes more intelligence to be an expert electrician, or even a mistri, than to be an office clerk copying letters all day.
But what we have still to learn is that honest work of all kinds is dignified and worthy of respect. In Pakistan, even the humble “sweeper”, who does unpleasant but absolutely necessary work, ought to be respected, instead of being regarded with contempt and thrust down into the lowest caste. The only things we should be ashamed of are idleness, and trying to live “by one’s wits” without labour. “Work is worship” and “to work is to pray”. We take of our hearts to honest, toil, and honour the honest workman.
His brow is wet with honest sweat,
He earns whate’er he can;
And looks the whole world in the face,
For he owes not any man.