Here in America, we have much to say on the subject of work.
For example, we like to say that work is not as important as others think it is. We declare it a means to an end, a mere distraction from what is truly important to us. We bemoan it as a hassle, a pain, and an interference with our lives. Work is that thing which, we insist, comes well after family, friends, and ‘personal fulfillment.’
In short, we lie.
Regardless of the stories we like to tell one another, for better or worse we Americans live for work. The amount we spend working dwarfs any other activity we choose to engage in, save sleeping. In modern times, our circle of friends is more likely to be determined by our workplace than any other single factor. We live not where our loved ones are, but where our work demands. What type of work we choose is the foundation for our own self-identities; what work others choose is the foundation of our determination of their worth as people.
Our greatest political battles continue to revolve around work. In Culture-War skirmishes, half of us judge the moral fiber of others almost entirely on their personal relationship with work; the other half judge the same almost entirely on where they fall within the hierarchy of the workplace. Entire political campaigns are based on nothing but jobs and the wages those jobs may (or may not) provide. Collectively, we declare work itself to be the panacea for poverty, crime, inequality, violence, poor education, lack of security, and all other social ills.
When we are acknowledged to be especially good parents, spouses, friends or neighbors by the same, we might quietly nod and briefly smile, and then move on. But when we are acknowledged to be especially good workers by our employers, we treat ourselves to special dinners, get-away vacations, and maybe even that new car we’ve secretly been eyeing. We line up to buy lottery tickets in the implausible hope that we will never have to work again, only to be secretly warmed by the inevitable stories of how being separated from work drove those who won to financial ruin, depression, and (perhaps) suicide. We take those things we love most in life — art, music, games, story telling, food, spirits, sex, childrearing, companionship — and we turn them all into work to be done for wages.
In 21st century America, we ask nothing of our work but that it be rewarding, enriching, fulfilling, challenging, and meaningful — that it might feed our souls and be the solid foundation that makes everything else in our lives possible. Or to be more concise, all that we ask of work is that which we ask of God.
Today marks the beginning of the Ordinary Times Work Symposium.
As with all of our symposiums, we have asked that writers write whatever they wish so long as it directly or indirectly connects to the symposium topic. Submissions continue to arrive, but so far we have a most promising table set for readers and commenters alike.
We are currently cuing up discussions on the myth (or truth) of sustainable work economies, what pets can teach us about a post-work society, an argument that the employer-employee relationship not be considered contractual, the devaluation of skilled workers in our winner-take-all economy, an attempt to solve demand-side information imperfections in the workplace, a work diary from the Internet’s favorite attorney, the (definitely non-financial) rewards of a career dedicated to serving others in need, a look at the surprising work-life of America’s founding women, a retrospective of work-themed music, one worker’s detailed confession and cataloguing of his aggressions in the workplace, and an exclusive insider look at the secret work-life of Oompa Loompas.
As always, the symposium will continue until it doesn’t. At any time, you can find all published posts for the Work Symposium here.