by Frank Pauc
This first appeared in Frank’s Blog on January 27, 2022 as “What Use Are They.” It is republished here with the author’s permission.
“Sir, what is the use of a newborn baby?” -Benjamin Franklin, while he was in Paris in 1783
I love to watch Asher play. Our grandson is a little over one year old now, and his play is his work. I am fascinated at how he concentrates so intently on what he’s doing. He takes a small, smooth stone and tries to place it into the bed of a tiny toy dump truck. He uses his delicate fingers to turn the rock this way and that until he finally gets it to fit into the truck. Sometimes his face shows signs of frustration as he struggles to maneuver the little stone. Finally, when he has it sitting how he wants, Asher looks upon his finished task with a smile of satisfaction.
What is the use of a newborn baby? What is the use of a toddler, for that matter?
I spoke with my son, Stefan, a couple of days ago. We were talking about work. I am retired now, but Stefan is starting his career as a journeyman welder in the Iron Workers Union. Stefan said this to me about his time in school,
“They don’t teach you to think in school. Why would they want to do that? They just want you to fit into the system. The economy needs workers. The schools provide the workers for the corporations.”
Stefan is correct to a large degree. Our society resembles that of an ant colony. We need workers and soldiers to keep things running. The education system supplies the people that our economy and government demand. Many teachers work very hard to develop the minds of their students, but the system itself is designed to feed the needs of an insatiable machine.
Stefan went on, “And don’t get hurt on the job. Once you’re not making a profit for somebody, you’re done.”
Stefan is right there too. I had my leg crushed by a forklift at work back in 2009. I still have six screws and a plate in my right foot and ankle. I healed well enough to return to work. I knew other employees who were not so fortunate. Their backs and shoulders were ruined from decades of physical labor, but some of them could never prove that to the satisfaction of workers comp. So, they were discarded.
What use is a man or woman who is no longer “productive”? What is the use of workers who can’t work?
I used to visit patients in the psych ward of the local VA Hospital. Despite their physical and mental health issues, they often listened to me. They helped me to understand the experiences my son, Hans, had when he was deployed to Iraq.
What is the use of a veteran whose mind and spirit have been broken on the wheel of war? What is the use of a soldier who can no longer fight?
My grandmother lived into her nineties. Toward the end of her life, she was crippled by arthritis and nearly blind. When I would visit her, she seldom complained. If she did say anything, it was to protest the fact that she could not work to earn her keep. She found it hard to accept the idea that her experience and wisdom were helping me more than anything else she could have done.
What use is an old person whose body or mind has failed them?
I know a man who did sixteen years in prison for shooting at a cop. He served his time, and now he runs a soup kitchen. He also works to help ex-prisoners to find a place in a new world. This man is making a difference. Others like him find it too difficult to make it on the outside. The transition is too hard.
What use is an ex-prisoner who can’t adapt?
We live in a disposable culture. We easily throw away things. We also throw away people.
I go back to the question posed by Benjamin Franklin centuries ago. In a utilitarian sense, a baby has no practical use. A baby requires none. A baby simply needs to be a baby. The same goes for everyone else I have mentioned. Each individual has an intrinsic value. Each person has dignity as a human being. By virtue of their very existence, every person is of use.
Asher is a child of God and a source of wonder. So is everyone else.