When did ‘work’ become a dirty word?
I was in deep discussion earlier this week with a friend on the subject of work. He and I both share a deep connection with the higher value of work as part of the human spiritual journey and recognise we are probably in the minority with that perspective.
However, as part of the discussion we found ourselves questioning when exactly did work become a ‘bad’ thing? When did we decide that work was something ‘to be got through’ or start subscribing to the notion that we ‘work to live’ suggesting that it’s a necessary evil?
When the phrase ‘work/life balance’ started to become very popular within organisations I found I had an instinctive resistance to it – so much so that I refuse to use it these days (despite being in the business of helping people to find their ‘balance’ within work at one level). The phrase for me implies that work and life are separate – in a similar way to the thinking that we should ‘leave our emotions at the door’ when we go into work.
In the discussion my friend and I were having we considered our human ‘history’ starting with the story of Adam being thrown out of Paradise to work the land and that maybe this cast work in a poor light as punishment if you will and this has become stuck in our psyche (irrespective of whether you are religious or not)?
Or the monetisation of ‘power’ as those with the strength and the willingness to fight required the less strong to work the land to pay the taxes to enable the wars to take place to protect them (in the more benevolent versions) and the lands…
Or more recently the industrial revolution where we have become so removed from the impacts of our work and we can feel like we are simply serving a profit machine?
For me ‘work’ has a far deeper and more powerful value than we ascribe to it these days though if I’m honest I struggle to define it fully in simple terms. I would partly define work as growth – our opportunity to evolve as people, to find out more about ourselves and our ability to contribute meaningfully to the wider world. Also I would not confine work to the activity we do for money. Work at its most sacred has a curiosity to know ourselves and our world and a joyful discipline of growing our awareness of the beauty of what we can create together.
I’m curious how you would define work beyond the need to ‘put food on the table’.