2010 littleservices # 4: “Work”
What do you think, and do, about work?
For me (Tim) there’s a disparity, a disconnect, between the amount of work that I do (I confess, I’m a workaholic) and how much I profess to care about it (because on the contrary I profess bohemianism, stoicism, detachment; my friends are buying smallholdings in Wales, going on walking pilgrimages in Spain, are not corporate lawyers). I think I’m sufficiently self-aware to bring an end to this phase of overwork when I feel that the time is right.
I thought of three possible attitudes to work which are each in some sense spiritual, or which find a place within the forms of Christianity that most of us in Foundation know.
The first is the EVANGELICAL attitude. All work can be turned to good. Working in a merchant bank is good because you are a witness to Christ there (citing the Book of Daniel); if you disapprove of the financial system then fine, you’re working from within to improve it. Most work is also *hard*, the sweat of Adam’s brow since the fall. Pros: it’s bracing and a feelgood attitude, a great leveller. At HTB I enjoyed rubbing shoulders with the chairman of UBS, Ken Costa. Cons: not sure if getting to the main board of a City bank *really* means you’ll make a difference, except for the money you can give to charity. Don’t you have to get in line and play the game, more or less?
The second is the LIBERAL attitude. You should work in a justice-oriented job and demonstrably make a difference. None of that evangelical wishful thinking. If you aren’t building the kingdom here and now, what are you doing? Everyone at Greenbelt seems to be in this game and I come away feeling square, guilty and that I should change my career. At the very least, lawyers should be writing letters on behalf of death row inmates, drink fair trade, recycle and go on marches. Pros: yes, more tangible world-changing propensity than the evangelical model. Cons: unless you work full time in a caring/justice job, do you actually have the energy to go the extra mile all the time?
The third is the BOHEMIAN attitude which is a family relation to the STOIC or DETACHED attitude. All of them my personal favourites. Drop out and write poetry away from the city (quoting Gary Snyder, Wordsworth), berate your square ex-girlfriend stuck in a rut with “telephones, and managers and where you’ve got to be at noon” (Crosby Stills & Nash), consciously oppose the Man and all his doings (Tom Hodgkinson, How to be Free) or, if you must work, then hold it lightly and treat it all as a game (Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha). It’s all meaningless anyway (Ecclesiastes). Pros: speaks for itself really: the correct attitude. Cons: very few of us have the balls actually to do it.
I concluded that there was a bit of me in each of these three camps. How about you?
Comments are closed.