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What’s Your Line?

In more ways than one, a lifeline

     What’s Your Line? was a TV quiz show so popular that it ran for 17 seasons — 1950 to 1967 — and 877 episodes. 
     For the four B-List celebrities (can you name one or two of them?) asking questions and the millions watching, the point of interest was typically the oddity of the job or the improbability of the match between job and holder. For added challenge, they could seek only yes or no answers. All in all, there was more fun in the game of guessing, and the reveal, than in the work people did.
     If I were invited to a What’s Your Line? mixer, I’d go. But in real life, the jobs we do have their own fascination. So much that What do you do? — if not What’s Your Line? — is one of the first questions Americans ask to get to know one another. 
     The answers have their own Wow! factor.
     First, there are so many jobs. Who’d have thought there was so much work to do in the world?
     Second, they reveal so much human diversity. The range of mental, physical and manual ingenuity that’s natural to other people sets one’s head spinning. Can you imagine noodling out an equation to describe wave deflection? Mathematician Cathleen Morawetz, who died this month, did that. Not only can’t I imagine that, I’m awed at how an upholsterer disciplines fabric to three-dimensional curves. 
     More impressive still is the psychic challenge of being, say, a pediatric oncology nurse or a test pilot. Or a school bus driver, who not only has to maneuver a heavy chassis but also keep the peace among dozens of kids. 
     Third, some jobs have their own wow power: Arctic explorer … astronaut …
     Fourth, we depend on many people’s jobs to keep our lives from spinning out of control. High among our most valuable workers this week are the rescuers who’ve taken on the job of getting people out of the inland ocean that was the Gulf Coast of Texas. 
     In everyday life, our security and comfort depends on workers at the foundation: dishwasher, garbage collector, house cleaner. 
      The garbage collectors who hop off their big truck at my house every Friday not only haul away my refuge. They liberate me. Endure a garbage collection strike, and know how lucky — and interdependent — we are. House cleaners deal even more intimately with our messes, on the very spot we make them, so we can go about whatever business we think more worthy of our time. Dishwashers? Without them our whole culture of eating out tumbles to fast food disposables.
      So what really sets my mind spinning when I think of the work we do is our complex interdependence. Jobs we do near and far — from right here locally to all-around-the-world globally — support us all in the work we do and the lives we live.
     For all those reasons, I love this annual Labor Day task of rounding up people to tell us about the work they do. I hope reading it opens up your eyes, too.