Hold Your Head Up

By David Bailey, General Manager

September 2021

At the Bailey house, we love a good John Wayne Western. My personal favorite is “The Searchers,” but my brother Mike has always preferred “McLintock!” In one scene of that 1963 comedy, a young farmer comes to ask the title character, played by John Wayne, for a job. McLintock repeatedly turns him down but finally relents when the farmer tells him about the hardship his family is facing.

In a strange turn, the farmer then punches McLintock, explaining that he’s never begged before and it turned his stomach. He adds that he should have been grateful to McLintock for giving him the job. But McLintock corrects him, saying that he hires men and expects a full day’s work out of them. “For that I will pay you a fair day’s wage. You won’t give me anything, and I won’t give you anything. We both hold up our heads,” Wayne says.

That exchange has been on my mind as we celebrate Labor Day. It’s a day that has been dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers since Congress first passed an act in 1894 making it a holiday. We have marked it on the first Monday in September ever since.

The Bible is very clear about the concept of labor and how we should conduct ourselves in our work. No matter what our job may be, all work serves to glorify God, and so there is honor in it.

But today, as I drive through various towns in our service area, I see a lot of “now hiring” signs. I remember being happy to see those signs as a young man in college. After all, I needed some money. To earn it I swept floors, cleaned out concrete trucks at the plant and even hauled hay in the summer. And let me tell you, it was hot back then, too.

Back then I would do any kind of work to earn some extra money. So why is it that people today don’t want to work? Some would say that checks from the government pay so much that many people are happy to stay home and do nothing. But where is their character?

About 35 years after Labor Day was made a federal holiday, this country found itself in the midst of the Great Depression. During such difficult times, you can bet that those families would have jumped at the honor of working and providing for their family. But there were no jobs to be found.

Instead of simply sending out stimulus checks, the government at that time helped people by giving them jobs. Our country did so much great work — building dams and roads, blazing trails in our national parks and opening up rural communities to the wonders of electric power.

At South Alabama Electric Cooperative, our labor force certainly hasn’t forgotten that drive to do work we can be proud of. Summer can be an especially difficult time for our linemen as they face draining Southern heat during the day. Even when things cool off they have to deal with thunderstorms.

It isn’t much easier for our indoor employees. When the summer heat drives electric bills up, our employees often have to work patiently with frustrated members to explain the causes behind those increases and find ways to help them keep costs down.

Regardless of their role, they all understand that they are working for members who own this cooperative and pay our salaries. They always exhibit that desire not only to work rather than be given something, but also to excel at whatever they are doing.

My oldest grandson always likes to say, “My PawPaw is busy working on something.” It fills me with pride that he sees the value of work and that I can serve as a positive example for him. The day I don’t will be the day I need to do some serious soul searching. In the meantime, I hope that we can all take John Wayne’s advice to earn our keep rather than just be given it. When that happens, we can all hold our heads up.