I have written before about the hazards of thinking too much about ourselves and our work. I have found and offer to you an excerpt from a neat little article penned by Richard Mitchell, who wrote under the moniker of The Underground Grammarian. The passage itself may be vaguely dated, having been published in 1983, but the point is universal. You may read the entire piece here: http://www.sourcetext.com/grammarian/
I encourage you to read more of Mitchell's stuff. It's pretty good on the whole. But for now, read this and let it sink in.
ONE of the most delicious ironies of our ironical time is the fact that schoolteachers often make less money than garbagemen. Although garbagemen seem to have reconciled themselves to this curious inequity perhaps out of a phlegmatic realism inevitably induced by their labors, schoolteachers have not.
How can it be, schoolteachers ask in letters to editors all over the land, that "society" holds them so cheap? Have they not labored mightily to make society exactly what it is today, clarifying values, facilitating appreciations, and teaching everyone how to relate? Have they not been the principal providers of universal public self-esteem, creativity, and social awareness? So how come they don't get no respect? What kind of society can it be that better rewards those who haul away garbage than those who produce it?
Such complaints seem, at first, indubitably justifiable. At least, they require of any thoughtful citizen a scrutiny of whatever differences can be discovered between garbagemen and schoolteachers:
While the work of garbagemen is of unquestionable social value, they never hire public relations experts to nag us about their selfless devotion to the common good. They don't even have a bumper sticker. That ought to he worth a few bucks.
When garbagemen ask for more money, they gladly admit that what they really want is the money. As to recompense for the self-sacrifice out of which they consented to become garbagemen rather than executives of multi-national corporations, they say nothing. Such reticence is surely worth a little more money.
Although they shouldn't be, garbagemen are just a little bit ashamed of what they do, and thus deficient in self-esteem. Schoolteachers are not the least bit ashamed of anything that they do. They have great big oodles of self-esteem. Would it not be an appropriately democratic redistribution of wealth to take some money, since they'll never part with that self-esteem, away from the privileged schoolteachers and give it to those emotionally deprived garbagemen?
The shame that arises from believing what the world tells us to believe is a form of slavery, but when shame arises from self-knowledge informed by a principled consideration of what is estimable and what is not, it is virtue.