When I was a kid in primary school we had to sit a General Knowledge test. There were 20 questions, and the question that stumped us all was the last one; “What’s the name of the lady who cleans our classroom every afternoon?”
We all thought it was a bit of a joke question. We ‘knew’ the cleaning lady since we saw her every day. She was short, she wore a head scarf and she was in her 40s. But we didn’t know her name. Or if she had kids and where lived. Like everyone else, I handed in my test leaving the last question blank. As we walked out of the classroom one of my friends asked our teacher if the last question would count toward our overall mark.
“Absolutely,” he said. “You will meet many people in life. All are equally significant and important. Every one of them deserves your attention, acknowledgement, and respect – even if all you do is smile and say ‘hello’.”
I’ve never forgotten that lesson. I learned her name was Dorothy, and it’s shaped the way I relate to everyone ever since. No-one is better than anyone.
Covid_19 has been a stark reminder of this same lesson. The people who made a difference and mattered most in our time of crisis and need don’t sit in corner offices on the 57th floor, they mop the fucking floors.
The heroes of Covid_19 are the cleaners, nurses, doctors, caretakers, grocery workers, delivery drivers, teachers, bakers, farmers, packers, garbage collectors, funeral workers, pharmacists, social workers, IT people, and treasury workers (apologies for any omissions).
These heroes are not people with the most credentials, the most money, or the most awards. They are very different from the figures we normally laud and applaud, and (usually) very generously reward. They don’t wear capes or shout their names from the rooftops.
These heroes are the ordinary, extraordinary, people who give a shit, and who have made a real difference when we all needed them. So, as we all sit waiting for the green light to flash back on, signalling that we can all return to our ‘normal’ lives and jobs, may we never lose sight of the people who matter.
And may we never forget the Covid_19 lesson that all people are equal in significance and importance, no matter who they are or what they do. Everybody counts in equal measure, and every human being is worthy of your and my attention, acknowledgement, and respect. Especially the cleaner.