As many around the nation saw, there has been a massive wildfire in Southern California. It seriously threatened my hometown, where my parents still live, so I watched it closely. Growing up in a mountain town, we had threatening fires almost annually. Although some were worse than others, this one was probably the worst (as many friends noted: never did we see the whole town evacuated).
During each of the fires, including this one, there was an outpouring of well-deserved appreciation for the fire fighters who saved the town. Their tireless efforts continue to impress us.
At the same time, working the public sector and having been involved in two national-headline-making disasters in the past year, I've also seen that there are MANY more people involved in disaster response than fire, police, and medical. There are a variety of departments, professions, and workers who are deployed 24/7 (often without the overtime and other well-deserved benefits of fire, police, and emergency medical personnel). These other individuals tirelessly help people put their lives back together, provide comfort and resources to those who need it, and help navigate bureaucracies. If you've never been in a disaster, these things may seem superfluous, but the aftermath of a disaster can actually be more traumatic than the disaster itself.
In some ways, I think we place importance on professions and work based on Maslow's hierarchy of needs, as those who support the basic things are most critical. Is that really fair or accurate? Frankly, losses in some of the higher levels lead people to suicide, so I wouldn't minimize things beyond basic life needs. Those who support disasters in traditional first responder roles are often recognized because of placing their safety on the line. This is not to be minimized. However, the implication is that psychological safety and other parts of life from other first responders are minimized. Being on call actively 24/7 for months on end to survivors of traumas is dangerous work and changes lives forever. It's quiet work, though, and rarely acknowledged.
So let's generalize this. We have a hierarchy for careers. I went into psychology for the meaning. I do believe it is meaningful, and therefore important, work. But how many jobs do we dismiss as "menial," fundamentally limiting their sense of importance and then the workers' sense of meaning? A classic example is a trash truck driver, a job few people would want. What would happen if this profession disappeared? We'd suddenly consider it important. What about amusement park ride operators or ticket takers? Sure, entertainment isn't important in a traditional view of Maslow's hierarchy. However, what would life be without any entertainment? I think it helps us bring meaning, order, and balance to our lives. And without workers to support these things, our lives would be significantly affected.
So do some people really have more important jobs? If so, what should we base importance on?