Mike Rowe: Society Has Declared a ‘War on Work’

A sheep farm. It was one of many experiences Rowe has had with the show Dirty Jobs, where he goes into an industry as an apprentice for the day, watches a worker do the job and then he does it himself. There’s no scripting, no rehearsing. There’s one take for him to do the job.

Before going to this particular sheep farm in Colorado, Rowe did research because he knew castration was going to be part of his experience. He called the Humane Society and PETA and other groups to determine the “normal” and “correct” way that was to be done.

But when he got to the farm, his mentor put a lamb on a stand, whipped out a knife, cut off the tail and then BIT OFF the parts. Rowe said he was blown away. Rowe then insisted on doing it his way (with a rubber band that takes a week to do the job). He watched the rubber banded sheep as it skulked around in misery and the other sheep as it was prancing around.

He said if he was wrong about something like that, what other “normal” ways of thinking could be challenged? First is that hard-working jobs are undesirable.

“People with dirty jobs are happy,” he said. “As a group, they are the happiest people I know. Roadkill picker-uppers whistle while they work, I did it with them!”

Another, something he calls “the worst advice he ever got,” was to follow his passion. He questioned the catchphrases of corporate America that everyone agrees equal success: “team work, determination.” He questioned “safety first”: “What if OSHA got it wrong and it’s really ‘safety third’?”

His ending theory: “We’ve declared war on work as a society. We have waged this war on at least four fronts. Certainly in Hollywood, the way we portray working people on TV, it’s laughable. Madison Avenue, what’s the message coming out of there? ‘Life would be better if you didn’t have to work so hard, if you got home a little earlier, if you could retire a little sooner.’ Washington – I can’t even begin to talk about the deals and policies in place that affect the bottom line reality of jobs because I don’t really know, I just know that’s a front in this war. And then Silicon Valley, how many people have an iPhone or Blackberry right now? We are plugged in and connected, but innovation without imitation, the ability to produce it, is virtually worthless.”

Now, Rowe has a campaign to talk about manual labor and skilled jobs and to erase the stigma associated with this kind of honorable work. Check out his current initiative, Profoundly Disconnected.

And you can watch Mike Rowe’s full TED talk on this subject: