"Plumbers and Philosophers"
Louis Schmier
Valdosta State University
Random Thoughts


Louis Schmier, history professor at Valdosta State University, writes in his Random Thoughts: "I wandered on campus Friday to check out and set up one of my classrooms for the coming semester. A custodian was cleaning the carpets. I stopped to chat with him. He looked at me more than a tad stunned when I said with a slight pat on his back, ‘Thanks for keeping this place clean. I for one really appreciate it.’

"‘I thank you for that,’ said the custodian. ‘No one has ever said that to me, especially a professor. People act like I’m made of see-through glass. Thank you for seeing me.’

"This quiet morning I was thinking of something Daniel Goleman, the author of Emotional Intelligence, wrote. He says, ‘Threats to our standing in the eyes of others are almost as powerful as those to our very survival.’ After I came home from my walk, with both that statement and the custodian teary eyes in mind, I was walking around the master bedroom complex of our house, thinking about what it took for me to add the 700 square feet of these three rooms by myself some thirty odd years ago: designing, cement work, carpentry, stone work, insulation, roofing, plumbing, tiling, electricity, insulation, plastering, painting, wall papering, sheet rocking, etc, etc, etc. And, once again, I realized how much I admire the people who work with their hands – and their minds – a competent carpenter or gardener or auto mechanic or electrician or plumber or painter who may not have college degree, who maybe didn’t even graduate high school, who can masterfully wield a hammer or wrench or screwdriver or paint brush. I admire them far more than I do an incompetent philosopher who has his head in the clouds without having his feet on the ground or, worse, his smug nose lifted high. I so honor anyone if he does his work skillfully with excellence and with integrity more than I do anyone whose work is shoddy and less than honest, however eminent that person claims to be. A ‘Dr.’ doesn’t make anyone superior to a ‘Ms’ or ‘Mr.’ Letters like ‘Ph.D’ or ‘LLD’ or ‘MA’ do not make someone more important or superior to someone who doesn’t have that scrambled alphabet trailing his surname and introducing his given name.

"I look around at my campus and I see secretaries, clerks, cooks, grounds keepers, police, electricians, carpenters, locksmiths, painters, plumbers, custodians, garbage collectors, computer technicians, exterminators, mail people, and a host of other ‘see-through glass’ people. Too often ignored. Too often sneered at or browbeaten. Too often laughed at. Too often passed without a ‘hello.’ Too often not offered a grateful ‘thank you.’ Too often invisible as if they were cellophane. Too often demeaned and denigrated. The problem is, as Goleman says, that there is nothing more precious than the feeling that you matter, that we contribute to the value of the whole, and for most that we’re recognized for it. Feeling that you’re genuinely appreciated and cared about is the greatest energizer of most people. Each person is important to our university community, so very important, but not everyone sees that. Yes, important. Without them, our lights would go out, our drains would clog, our waste baskets would overflow, our campus would reek, our campus would be unsafe, our grounds would be unseemly, our computers would go down, our students would go hungry, our communication would break down, ants and cockroaches would overrun us, and God know what else would happen. There’s more to my campus than just administrators, faculty, and students. Everyone has a vital and different role to play without whom this institution would grind to a halt and fall into disrepair. Each one of them deserves respect, not just for the job they do, but just because they’re good, hard working people.

"Be consciously and vocally appreciative. It doesn’t cost anything to say a kindly and acknowledging, ‘hello,’ or ‘thank you.’ Make it a good day."