10/04/2011 10:37 am ET Updated Dec 04, 2011

My Thanks to the Everyday Workforce

There's been a lot of road repair activity going on where I live, and one of my personal rules is this: never yell or make rude gestures toward the men and women who are digging trenches, spreading gravel, and directing the flow of traffic with their 'Slow/Stop' signs.

Those people are easy targets for insults from passing drivers. I see it happen with unpleasant frequency. When you're stuck in a line of cars, waiting for the signal to proceed, do you feel any sympathy for the road crew? Or is it now customary to just assume they're a bunch of no-talent boneheads who can barely line up the orange cones?

As the election campaigns of 2012 shift into high gear, there will be lots of discussion from pundits and politicians trumpeting the importance of seeking and finding "good, high paying jobs." In a Utopian world, all college diplomas would come with a contract printed on the back, guaranteeing the recipient a successful career in high-tech, medicine, or some other lucrative, prestigious field.

But the real marketplace of jobs is vast and diverse. Unfortunately, too many Americans these days choose a worldview that divides society into winners and losers. The problem with this viewpoint is that huge numbers of bright, motivated adults are doing the kind of basic everyday work that keeps Main Street, USA in operation. The ones helping me navigate each day are certainly not losers.

Whenever I've been invited to speak in a classroom, I tell students this: look at your fellow citizens everywhere. Consider how many of them are holding jobs that affect your own life. There's no point in acting superior to someone just because he or she happens to be earning money as a clerk, letter carrier, house painter, or other unglamorous occupation. Make these people your allies.

School visits also give me a chance to look all the kids on the playground and ask myself, "Who among this crowd will grow up to be the person climbing a utility pole to make repairs at midnight during a frigid rainstorm?" Does that question ever come up on career day?

No one can be sure what lies ahead on the road of life. But a lot of people are doing a great job helping me avoid unexpected potholes. I wish I could give them all a raise.