Thursday, September 19, 2013

Social Justice - Excerpt - Why Work?



What is the Christian understanding of work? .... I should like to put before you two or
three propositions arising out of the doctrinal position which I stated at the beginning:
namely, that work is the natural exercise and function of man – the creature who is made
in the image of his Creator. You will find that any of them if given in effect everyday
practice, is so revolutionary ( as compared with the habits of thinking into which we have
fallen), as to make all political revolutions look like conformity.
The first, stated quite briefly, is that work is not, primarily, a thing one does to live, but
the thing one lives to do. It is, or it should be, the full expression of the worker’s
faculties, the thing in which he finds spiritual, mental and bodily satisfaction, and the
medium in which he offers himself to God.

 Now the consequences of this are not merely that the work should be performed under
decent living and working conditions. That is a point we have begun to grasp, and it a
perfectly sound point. But we have tended to concentrate on it to the exclusion of other
considerations far more revolutionary.

 (a) There is, for instance, the question of profits and remuneration. We have all got it
fixed in our heads that the proper end of work is to be paid for – to produce a
return in profits or payment to the worker which fully or more than compensates
the effort he puts into it. But if our proposition is true, this does not follow at all.
So long as Society provides the worker with a sufficient return in real wealth to
enable him to carry on the work properly, then he has his reward. For his work is
the measure of his life, and his satisfaction is found in the fulfillment of his own
nature, and in contemplation of the perfection of his work.
That, in practice, there is this satisfaction, is shown by the mere fact that a man will put
loving labor into some hobby which can never bring him may economically adequate
return. His satisfaction comes, in the godlike manner, from looking upon what he has
made and finding it very good. He is no longer bargaining with his work, but serving it.
It is only when work has to be looked on as a means to gain that it becomes hateful; for
then, instead of a friend, it becomes an enemy from whom tolls and contributions have to
be extracted. What most of us demand from society is that we should always get out of it
a little more than the value of the labor we give to it. By this process, we persuade
ourselves that society is always in our debt – a conviction that not only piles up actual
financial burdens, but leaves us with a grudge against society.

 (b) Here is the second consequence. At present we have no clear grasp of the
principle that every man should do the work for which he is fitted by nature. The
employer is obsessed by the notion that he must find cheap labor, and the worker
by the notion that the best-paid job is the job for him. Only feebly, inadequately,
and spasmodically do we ever attempt to tackle the problem from the other end,
and inquire: What type of worker is suited to this type of work? People engaged
in education see clearly that this is the right end to start from: but they are
frustrated by economic pressure, and by the failure of parents on the one hand and
employers on the other to grasp the fundamental importance of this approach.
And that the trouble results far more from a failure of intelligence than from
economic necessity is seen clearly under war conditions, when, although
competitive economics are no longer a governing factor, the right men and
women are still persistently thrust into the wrong jobs, through sheer inability on
everybody’s part to imaging a purely vocational approach to the business of
fitting together the worker and his work.

(c) A third consequence is that, if we really believed this proposition and arranged
our work and our standard of values accordingly, we should no longer think of
work as something that we hastened to get through in order to enjoy our leisure
we should look on our leisure as the period of changed rhythm that refreshed us
for the delightful purpose of getting on with our work. And this being so, we
should tolerate no regulations of any sort that prevented us from working as long
and as well as our enjoyment of work demanded. We should resent any such
restrictions as a monstrous interference with the liberty of the subject. How great
an upheaval of our ideas that would mean I leave you to imagine. It would turn
topsy-turvy all our notions about hours of work, rates of work, unfair competition,
and all the rest of it. We should all find ourselves fighting, as now only artists
and the members of certain professions fight, for precious time in which to get on
with the job – instead of fighting for precious hours saved from the job.

 (d) A fourth consequence is that we should fight tooth and nail, not for mere
employment, but for the quality of the work that we had to do. We should clamor
to be engaged in work that was worth doing, and in which we could take pride.
The worker would demand that the stuff he helped to turn out should be good
stuff – he would no longer be content to take the cash and let the credit go. Like
the shareholders in the brewery, he would feel a sense of personal responsibility,
and clamor to know, and to control, what went into the beer he brewed. There
would be protests and strikes – not only about pay and conditions, but about the
quality of the work demanded and the honesty, beauty, and usefulness of the
goods produced. The greatest insult which a commercial age has offered to the
worker has been to rob him of all interest in the end product of the work and to
force him to dedicate his life to making badly things which were not worth
making.
**Excerpt from Why Work by Dorothy Sayers

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