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Yesterday, while my train passed by a construction site at one of the larger shopping malls in Manila, the irony of the growing steel and concrete behemoth hit me. The construction workers dangling in life-or-death scaffolding, inhaling hazardous fumes and dust, toiling away the hours for minimum wage – once the new glitzy mall is open, they would probably never be able to afford what will be sold in there.

Without these skilled workers, most of who came from the provinces to take their chances in the city, building awe-defying structures would be impossible. The capital may come from the businessmen, but money cannot build a mall, a skyscraper, or a highway on its own. For most, these nomadic men who move from one construction site to another construction contract are just making ends meet. On a bigger scale, they’re allowing the rest of us to enjoy “the economy”, pencil in a day of leisure, dine al-fresco, or escape the tropical heat.

It is ironic a job that could cost you a limb, or your life, would only earn you half as much as just sitting around in an air-conditioned office, typing your hours away, affording to slack off, or logging in to Facebook to ease the stress of being a “professional”. And yet it also strikes me that without harsh economic inequalities, societal structures would perhaps be non-existent. We’d all be bosses. If we’re all equal, who would want to be the garbage man, or the traffic aid, or the window cleaner? And who would want to build a mall with the risk of losing their life? Without certain evils and cruel truths, the life we know would collapse.

It bothers me how I’ve been so negligent of the people that make it possible for most of us to live the life we’re so used to. And it hurts me, in an unfathomable manner, how certain injustices seem so necessary to teach us a lesson. Guilt will never put a meal on the construction worker’s table. But maybe gratitude, even if it comes late, or arrives as an afterthought, would mean something regardless if the construction workers ever read this or not.

I’m not writing this to soften my guilt, or approach my remorse with self-righteousness. I’m writing this as a reminder, that when I get my fair share of hard work’s rewards, I will be generous, share what I’ve learned, and pay kindness forward.

I don’t think I could ever say sincerely that I’m lucky I don’t have to do such a dusty, dangerous job as to weld steel beams together, or spread out an almost quicksand of concrete mix floor upon floor of a skyscraper. After all, the profundities and priorities of the individual vary. What could be great for me could hardly be attractive to another. What may seem life-threatening to me could be a routine day at the “office” for them. I am not immersed in the experience of the construction worker, evidently. I will not pretend to. But I’m truly grateful there are people who persevere against the odds, and value their work, regardless of how trivial they seem, no matter if the indifferent reduces such manual labors as ordinary.

I can’t say the same about what I do. I can’t even trust myself to value any sort of work. And in that respect I’m sure the construction workers are luckier, wealthier, and better than me.