Jobs Don’t Have Dignity, People Do

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Photo by Caju Gomes on Unsplash

“Whoever wants music instead of noise, joy instead of pleasure, soul instead of gold, creative work instead of business, passion instead of foolery, finds no home in this trivial world of ours.”~ Hermann Hesse

From a young age we are taught that work imparts dignity. The question ‘what do you do?’ is instantly understood to refer to our job: what someone pays us to do as opposed to the thing(s) done with our time that give our life meaning. Too often our job is no longer what enables us to live. It is what our life revolves around. Everything else is the stuff we do to recharge our metaphorical batteries for the job, like a Roomba at the end of a long day of vacuuming.

Consider the justifications we often use for taking a vacation, or that our employers use to justify the expense of giving us a paid vacation in the first place. We tell ourselves that a vacation will increase our productivity. In other words, taking time off work is a means to the end of being a better employee rather than leading a more personally fulfilling life.

But that’s assuming we even get a paid vacation. Nearly one in four US workers doesn’t. That’s because the US is one of just a handful of countries in the world that doesn’t mandate employers provide their workers with paid time off each year.

It is, of course, true that we are more productive when we take time for ourselves. But that productivity should be our primary concern, or really a serious personal concern at all, is a bit disturbing. If our time away from the office or factory is as much or more about staying sharp and focused at work as it is about enriching our lives, then we’re little better than the machines threatening to take many of our jobs. The only real difference between them and us is the machine doesn’t need to “recharge” every few months or so. It’s always plugged in and ready to go.

Of course we wouldn’t say the robot that’s taken the place of an assembly line worker has dignity because it has a job. We don’t refer to these bulky metal contraptions programmed to perform the same task over and over again with tireless precision as contributing members of society.

But the assembly line worker spending her weekends sculpting, or the bank teller that dabbles in wildlife photography in his spare time we do not hesitate to dignify. Not because they are a factory worker or a bank teller. That’s just what they do to pay the bills. They are dignified because of what they do with their life.

What do we do? We paint, we write, we parent, we hike, we learn, we teach, we love. For most of us these probably aren’t the things we do for a living. But these are the reasons we live, even if doing them doesn’t pay the rent.

Other recent stories by Craig Axford:
Equality: The Yeast That Makes Liberty Rise & Who Are the Undeserving Poor? When I Meet One I’ll Let You Know

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US citizen residing in British Columbia, Canada. Degrees include anthropology and environmental studies. Activism, politics, science, nature.

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