Ian Galloway: We all matter, even those without a job

IT WAS Joseph Stalin who said “One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic.” At a time when unemployment statistics grow larger and larger, it’s tough to remember that every new redundancy or every rejection letter received by someone yet to begin their working career is a tragedy.

We are more than our work, but without work much of who we are can be lost. Poverty is not simply a description of an individual’s financial affairs, though financial poverty is, in itself, soul-destroying. Where redundancy or constant rejection means those who depend on the victim are also affected, the emotional and even spiritual consequences cut much deeper.

Our occupation is not who we are, even for someone like me fortunate enough to be paid to live my vocation.

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Yet at the same time, what we do, especially when it brings out talent and potential, and allows us to feel what we do is a benefit to others, nurtures our sense of who we are. This applies not just to vocations.

A colleague told me recently of a member of his parish who is on almost permanent night shift in a 24-hour supermarket.

Many would see this as a dead-end job. He says he finds meaning in his work by deliberately being a listening ear to many of his younger colleagues. It’s pastoral care in the supermarket aisle rather than a church aisle, but just as effective.

We need to take more spiritual view of this challenge. Not having a pay packet is a tough place to be. But the place we find strength to face the challenge begins by learning that each of us matters, whether or not we have a job.

From there the journey is one of perseverance, not letting rejection define how we feel about ourselves. And then it’s about the nurturing the confidence to take risks to get to a place where the challenge is overcome.

The talk of the recession may be about material things, but the solution begins within each person, a place statistics can never go.

•  The Rev Ian Galloway is convener of the Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland.