Thinking about work

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By Tom Holmes

Contributing Reporter / Religion Blogger

 

Are you working overtime?  Following your bliss?

 

            Will you find yourself squeezing in a couple of hours of work on Labor Day?

 

            The availability of I Pads and Smart Phones has made it easier than ever to bring work home, and the pressure to produce more with less has become increasingly intense.  Have you noticed that people don't ask "do you like your job" as much anymore?  Now the question is, "Do you have a job?"

 

            When I ask merchants on Madison St. "is business getting better," most of them reply "a little bit" and then add, "I'm at least paying the bills."  Just paying the bills seems to be a major achievement these days.

 

            We don't hear people encouraging each other "to follow your bliss" much anymore.  My son, for example, has a degree in archaeology, but he's making twelve bucks an hour doing basically menial labor digging test holes.  At least he's working in his field, but he and his roommate hold their breath at the end of the month to see if their two checkbooks have a big enough balance to pay the rent.  He tries to keep a positive attitude by saying, "At least I have a job."

 

            A neighbor of mine has a degree in religious education and has experience in school administration, but he's working as a receptionist for the same pay my son is getting.  My son is at least building a resume.  My neighbor feels like he's going nowhere if not sliding backwards, but he, too, will say, "At least I have a job."

 

            Do you remember when, ten years ago or so, people kept saying "follow your bliss," i.e. work should be something you love rather than a way to pay the bills?  The mythologist Joseph Campbell supposedly started it with statements like "Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls" and "I think the person who takes a job in order to

live –that is to say, for the money—has turned himself into a slave."  Or, they would quote Confucius as saying, "Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life."

 

            It's all very appealing, to do what you love and all the other pieces will fall into place.  But many of us are faced with the reality of doing work we don't love in order to earn the money to pay the bills or doing what we love at the price of worrying 24/7 about going even further into debt.

 

            Walt Disney movies are appealing, because most of the time, everything works out in the end.  Disney misses, by and large, the tragic aspect of life.  Or take Adam Smith's invisible hand, a metaphor which asserts that  competition between buyers and sellers somehow channels the profit motive of individuals on both sides of the transaction such that improved products are produced and at lower costs, and socially desirable ends are produced.

 

            Sometimes the invisible hand works, especially for the 1%.  These days, however, the 99% seem to be feeling like the invisible hand is called invisible for a good reason.

 

            So, how are we supposed to react?  I think all of us know.  We just have to keep reminding each other, especially when the invisible hand seems to be beating us up instead of making everything turn out for the good.

 

            We need to remind each other that it really does take a village to help us get through the hard times as well as to raise a child.  I feel sorry for people who don't belong to a faith community or a service club or a men's group or the Chamber of Commerce or some other web of committed relationships.  That great sage Paul McCartney declared, "Money can't buy we love."  The kind of love that sustains requires time and commitment.

 

            We need to remind each other that that's the way life goes.  Sometimes we're up and sometime's we're down.  When we're up, we need to remember not to get a big head, to remind ourselves that a lot of things contributed to our success besides our own effort.  When we're down, it's good to remember that, like the flu, this won't last forever.

 

            We need to remind each other that following our bliss isn't a total fantasy, that like my son the archaeologist, each of us in one way or another is building a resume.  He's a long way from any Indiana Jones scenario, but if he does the work he has at the time well and keeps his eyes open, the invisible hand probably will open a door or two. . . .eventually.

 

            We need to remind each other that our Sunday school teachers were right, that serenity or an even keel or the peace of mind that passes all understanding has to come from the inside rather than the outside.  A travel show host was asking Norwegians how they are able to enjoy outside activities when for much of the year the temperature is around zero.  The Norwegian smiled and replied, "There is no such thing as bad weather.  Only bad clothing." 

 

            But you already know all of the above.  After thirty years of serving as a pastor, I finally realized that most of what I said in sermons wasn't anything new to the folks sitting in the pews.  They had heard it before from their grandmas or in kindergarten or in Sunday school.  My job, in large part, was to remind them of what they already knew and believed. 

 

Especially when circumstances seem to discredit wisdom which has been around for the ages, we need to distinguish between spiritual fads which, like analgesics, make us feel good but don't cure the underlying malady.  Adam Smith, after all, was writing a mere 200 years ago, a blink of the eye of history.  The Wealth of Nations is worth reading but it's not sacred scripture.

 

            Monday was Labor Day.  It's not too late to help each other put the work we do or, at the moment don't have, in perspective.

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