To understand what work is, how it affects our lives, and what it can look like for it to be a part of a humanely lived life.
Since work necessarily involves human behavior (which always raises how we ought to behave), work is one of the central questions of the human condition. It is therefore a perennial question that is always worthy of examination.
More specifically, work is undergoing a major crisis in our time. Rapid technological development, economic crises, and incredible economic inequality all raises questions about the nature of work and how gainful employment looks in the 21st century. While some look to return to the past to “enchant” work (think Wendell Berry, and other Front Porchers), many must remain in office jobs and other work.
Perhaps for the first time in human history, it is important that our work be meaningful and not merely a way in which we sustain our livelihood. Instead of merely a means to an end, work has been transformed, for good or ill, into a way in which we gain meaning and identity as individuals. Perhaps the workplace has even superseded (or eroded depending on your point of view) previous places of identity: family, nationality, and religion. It is assumed that what we do for our work is in someway who we are. Therefore work is also a part of the larger crisis of valuation and meaning for life generally today in the first world. Where work fits into other questions of value (family life, political engagement, and religion) is also worthy of serious investigation.
In summary, people intuit that somehow their work should be meaningful and not just a means to an end. This fact should be addressed, whether the intuition is correct or not. Hopefully, this channel will be an aid and a challenge to those interested in the role work plays in their lives.
While some of the investigations for work will be of a more philosophical bent, it is important we avoid the didactic. Instead, what will be of greater interest are stories.
Personal stories work well because they refuse to polish off the edges of important questions. While a moralistic call to return to the agrarian life, with our copies of Shop Class as Soulcraft firmly in hand might make for entertaining fare, this simply does not speak to the man stuck in what some might say is a boring dead end job. How can that man, where he is, find meaning in his work? Stories where someone in this situation has found meaning, or yearns for meaning, would be a great asset.
If anything, I just want to avoid the narrative that the only way to find meaning in work is a full throttled and unabridged return to past forms of work. Most of all because that story has been told everywhere many times over and is now a bit stale but also because it excludes most of the people who would be reading Humane Pursuits. How can a person right this second begin to get meaning from work?
There are many narratives about work and how it relates to our lives to be told. Present those in all their nuance is a challenge I think the writers of the Work Channel ought to be up to.
What is work for?
- Is it just to make money so I can do the REAL living after I leave work?
- Prestige, success? Pros and cons, value, is there a proper way to direct such goals or are they merely “selfish”? (John Adams, for example, thought building respect among the people of one’s immediate acquaintances was normal and healthy; “ambition” rightly understood)
- Other models of work from the past or other cultures?
- Understanding stewardship vs. ownership
- Am I supposed to follow my passion? Should I expect others to pay me for that? What do I do when my job doesn’t seem to be a step in my passion?
- Is vocation is for others – God, people, etc.? (rather than being about you)
- *If so, who? Should vocation be tied to place? Obligations? Gratitude? (communities invest in their young people in the expectation that it’ll make my town better tomorrow, but the best young people go to NYC and never come back…there’s loads of material in these questions)
- Vocation and causes – are they inherently better than, say, working for an investment banking firm?
- *College/education – is it to set me up for “work”? is it for something else?
- Is work supposed to fulfill me? By itself? In its goals? In its day to day work?
- Is work supposed to define me? (work re: sense of self; “what do you do?”)
- Work as an activity worthy in itself — virtue through work. Adam was tending to the garden even before the fall. Work is not punishment. Pain through work is the punishment.
- Unpaid work is still meaningful work (traditionally: caretaking and the household).
- Is my workplace fulfilling its role re: the above questions?
- Does work need to be perfect?
- Management questions, leadership questions, authority vs. empowerment
- How to be a good team member/giver
- *Community in the workplace (is it real? what’s its function? how far does it go?)
Different functions in the workplace
- The Manager vs. the Entrepreneur.
- The Specialist vs. the Generalist
- *What does a good work-life balance look like?
- The dangers of over-working in an age of existential/spiritual ennui
- Holiness/virtue through work. Man was made for work. What is holiness? (Leon Kass taught me a great class on the Judeo-Christian revolutionary idea of holiness — how for the first time in the Sabbath holiness was woven into the fabric of our life.
- The naptime habits of successful people
- Drinking habits of successful people
- Fast-food vs. slow-food culture
- The history of vacations
- Tips for getting all your work done
- Post-industrial sleeping patterns
- White collar blue-collarism (are white collar jobs inherently better, as we’ve been told?)
- Work and parenting
- Work and the sexes (questions about “traditional gender roles”).
- Obligations to hometown/community (This might be related to Vocation/identity section), and how to live well in a place seemingly devoid of thinking people. Said another way, great men come in clusters, right? So if all the great men are clustered in NYC…?
- The military as a profession: Is it possible to maintain a thriving martial spirit over a working lifetime?
Interesting developments in and perspectives on particular fields
- Advertising vs. Marketing (the fall of traditional advertisement in a Millennial generation that has been saturated by sales-pitches and the “$0.99 mentality”)
- The rise of successful business models that rely solely on logistics, not content: In 2015 Uber, the world’s largest taxi company owns no vehicles, Facebook the world’s most popular media owner creates no content, Alibaba, the most valuable retailer has no inventory and Airbnb the world’s largest accommodation provider owns no real estate.
- How to approach working in a profession of leisure — professional athletes, academics, non-profits staff, etc.
Challenges faced by young professionals
- Learning the difference between Wants and Needs (this could actually be a very deep article… bring in some Dante.)
- Real vs. Created value
- Burying your talents (biblical and practical)
- Turning a weakness into a strength
- Who you work for is more important that what you work in – apprenticeship for experience rather than simply working for money. Who you work for can be more important than where you work.
- Calling people by their last name. Mr. — or Ms. —. The loss of formality with the baby boomer generation. What have millennials inherited?
- The death of the bourgeois virtues (Ben Franklin, etc.) with the rise of the baby boomer values of spending and the rise of the credit crazy. How are millennials similar or different from the baby boomers?