Why Do We Work?
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Why Do We Work? • Posted: Apr 08, 2013 19:16:19Comments WelcomeVote CoolPhotoblogsPurchase a PrintShare

U.S. unemployment figures came out this week. The rate went down but job creation was anemic. Analysts say the rate dropped because nearly half a million people left the workforce, a combination of retirements, discouraged job-seekers, and changes in circumstance like going back to school. Working people now represent the lowest percentage of overall U.S. population since 1983, 58.5% per NPR's Yuki Noguchi. The economy at large is still growing, but wage increases have been stagnant for years. The only people seeing income gains are company owners and investors. And even though the rate of inflation is low, increased fuel prices are squeezing hundreds and even thousands of dollars out of everybody's budget each month. In effect, we are all getting poorer. So, why do we do this? Why do we continue to go to work each Monday morning?

Because it smells good? Because we like the view out the window? Because the temperature is comfortable? Because we enjoy the music they have playing in the background?

Those reasons might not actually be as silly as they seem. We do tend to opt for relative comfort over not. Try imagining working in a place that smells horrible, or one that's sweltering hot or freezing cold or clammy damp or so dry it sucks the moisture right out of you, or someplace where noise is so loud or annoyingly repetitive you can't stand it. Given a choice, you wouldn't. And neither would I. But, creature comforts and relative health and safety are not the only reasons we go to work each day. In fact, many who work endure conditions they'd never choose if given a choice. Why? Because there are deeper concerns.

Survival is probably the deepest concern. We work to stay alive, to have something to eat, to escape punishment and abuse by both nature and our fellows, and to help ensure we make it through the day with some prospect of seeing tomorrow. Beyond survival, there are both social and personal reasons we work. In all cases, we work to effect consequence. That consequence might be to help solve a problem plaguing any number of people. Or, it may be to gain personal reward for ourselves or our employers. It might also be to create something that has never existed before, perhaps a work of art or an interesting inspiring answer to a fascinating question.

So, is all work inherently "good" in its consequence?

Sadly, given the amount of bad consequence due to human activity the world and its inhabitants endure each day, the answer is obviously not. But the situation could be otherwise. Try to imagine a world wherein all individuals are trained from birth to consider the consequence of their actions, for not only themselves but for those around them and for the environment at large. Imagine a world wherein all grown individuals are ensured a personally meaningful place in their communities and workplaces, where their life's work substantively contributes toward socially responsible group efforts. Imagine a surrounding culture that promotes, encourages, and rewards socially and environmentally responsible behavior instead of fostering and promoting fear, jealousy, greed, and corruption. Imagine a world where government leaders understand and accept their service is needed to help make things work for the benefit of society at large, not just for their own profit and aggrandizement.

Working to make such a world real would be work worth doing. Don't you think?

Monday, April 16th, 2012