Friday, February 25, 2011

Hard Work, Discipline and the Uncapitalistic Problem of Idleness

A nun is received by a woman at the gates
The Pilgrim at the Gate of Idleness, by Edward Burne-Jones
I doubt that hard work and discipline, major incentives and foundations of modern-day capitalism, are an integral and natural part of human beings. We may be born with a predisposition toward those aspects and some embrace and internalize them more quickly, easily and readily than others, yet it is generally not a spontaneous expression of one's natural state, unlike its much criticized counterpoint, idleness.

I believe that if given the chance, people would prefer to do nothing and would probably shun work whenever they can. Even in today's workforce, many people call in sick or ask for days off because there are certain days they really don't feel like working. It happens pretty much to everyone from time to time. And obviously, such sentiments and actions are counterproductive and lead to a loss of revenue for the company if not the individual.

Yet in modern society, more than ever, you need to work hard and restlessly for a living and nothing is free. Because of a competitive market, you need to try your best and in some cases wear yourself out, so you don't lose your job to someone else. Networking and contacts can only get you so far in the pragmatic and profit-oriented world of business.

At the same time, you have been drilled for many years and through different sources, such as family, friends, school and counselors that work is not only necessary but indeed “good.” It is not only a commendable activity, but is actually transformed into a virtue. You are in many ways judged and defined by the work you do, which is exemplified by the question of what you do (for a living) since “you are what you do.” 

A life of idleness is frowned upon, while lucrative professions, such as lawyers and doctors, demand global respect. As a result, you work not only to fulfill economic and financial needs, but also for emotional and psychological reasons. The concept of work is so ingrained in us that we simply cannot think of a life without it.

While work is equated with morality, idleness is considered a sin. In other words, we feel guilty and bad when we do not do anything “productive.” In terms of business, productivity is translated into income and profit, and this may explain why many business-people simply cannot find the means to fully unwind. Benjamin Franklin's maxim of “Time is money” is so deeply ingrained that they cannot shake off the feeling of wasting precious time and money when they are not actively devoted to their business.

The capitalist world thrives on such a frame of mind to operate at the highest levels. By internalizing hard work and discipline, we become part of the immense system of production. “Publish or perish,” they say in literary and scholarly circles. Yes, I do enjoy writing and publishing posts, but then again I am not making a living from it.

It is true that doing what one loves, following one's vocation means that hard work and discipline will flow naturally. Yet there is always the danger that your enthusiasm will ebb out through the repeated cycle of daily work routine. There is always the shadow of idleness reflected in your tasks because, let's face it, there is nothing better to do than to be doing nothing.


FishHawk said...

One of my dad's favorite sayings was that one should love what they are doing or they will not be worth much to their employer. A similar saying is that if you love what you are doing, you will never work a day in your life.

Nonetheless, it is good to make time for some idleness. For this helps to prevent a burnout, and if an obsessive person like myself can convince themselves (with some help from our Heavenly Father, of course) that downtime should be as much a part of their routine as their work is, it is a win-win.

Jimmy Clay said...

The problem is that to make a living we have to do hard work that we rather not do. And most of us are not lucky enough to do what we would truly like to do. We have to take the job we can get and try our best to enjoy it. Sometimes the effort to enjoy ones job is a lot of work in itself.

I've spent all day working on my blog and not given the effort or time a second thought. But when I'm at my job, I am constantly looking at the clock.

Francis Hunt said...

Children don't distinguish between work and play - it's the same for them.

For most of our historical existence we were hunter-gatherers; life was lived much more in the moment, you did what you had to do to live and when you had done that, you did nothing - in modern language, just chilled.

There are a lot of modern studies which suggest that the shift from hunter-gathering to settled-farming meant a massive loss of quality of life for most people- Jared Diamond, for example, in his book Guns, Germs and Steel touches on this.

Of course, the disadvantage of hunter-gathering is that it is a life without any security - if you don't find or catch food, you go hungry. You have a higher life-quality but continuous mortality is higher, which is why hunter-gatherer populations increase much more slowly.

Arashmania said...

Thank you all for your comments! Finding what one loves to do is definitely the best philosophy, but as you know, it is often difficult to do so, but one has to try it out nonetheless.

Yes, children are amazing in their abilities and worldviews and we sometimes get a sense of it ourselves when we are fully immersed in our activities and when time does not pass, but runs! You know, the good days at work.

I believe that writers fall into the hunter-gathering category, not based on their activity but the insecurity of getting by or being left without food and clothes at the side of the road. It is often an unfortunate and sad consequence
of a beautiful profession that gives so much joy and passion to oneself and others.