Re-examining the Virtue of Hard Work

One of society’s deeply entrenched cultural myths is the idea/belief that hard work is indisputably a good thing. Part of this seems to be fueled by our desire for the fruits of excessive industry, but also by the prevailing Protestant work ethic equating industry with virtue. However, can we really look at all the plastic in the ocean, piles of toxic garbage shipped elsewhere in the world and the destructive effects of climate change, and still fail to see how all our sanctified industriousness is destroying us?

Also, have we so fetishized the lives of the rich and notorious, that we have lost sight of where real nourishment in life actually derives? Apparently when one asks the average kid what they want to be when they grow up, many say ‘famous’. A very sad commentary on our societal values betraying a complete lack of imagination or vision where a life of vitality, stimulation and joy are concerned.

I sense a wee bit of moral confusion in all this, you? What about the virtues of non-industry?

Living more by working less isn’t a bad strategy for increasing the quality of one’s life. More time for family, friends and the enrichment of our communities through, say, better urban planning—basic support for lives that center around something other than the acquisition of money—sounds good to me.

Here’s an interesting fact. You’re familiar with the saying ‘busy as a bee’? Apparently bees work only 1/3 of their day, the other 2/3 is spent in what might be understood as leisure. This thought provoking piece of information from the book Bee Time: Lessons from the Hive, by Mark L. Winston.

Point is, we need much less to be happy than we generally suppose we do. Life’s profound questions, the quest for meaning and the challenges inherent in being alive will not disappear as a result of embracing a less industrious life, but we will open ourselves up to the important possibility of transcending some of society’s more destructive impulses, in favour of those that are creative, constructive and do less harm.

Sharing a home-cooked meal and a glass of deep red; planting a community garden; playing an instrument; reading a book; sitting still and contemplating the ineffable, are but a handful of fine activities to focus our life around. All provide nourishment in the form of creativity, contentment and a basic sense of joy.

Work is inevitable, the real question is: where is our work and the amount of time we spend doing it taking us? Who are we becoming? What are we creating? What’s our legacy at the end of the day?