“For five years Cesar lived with Pepe’s family… As Cesar did not like to work, he and his wife and daughter ate the food grown on Pepe’s [land]. Cesar was delighted to find that Pepe did not expect him to clear a garden of his own or even help with the work in his. Pepe enjoyed working, and since Cesar did not, the arrangement suited everyone…”
WORK…that four-letter word. Or maybe not…
In the 1950s, a woman named Jean Liedloff joined two other young Italian explorers on a diamond hunting expedition into the Venezuelan jungles. This initial adventure led Jean to return over a period of two-and-a-half years to live with the indigenous community, which she later describes has having transformed the way she conceived of ‘work’.
Jean continues her story of Cesar and Pepe in her book The Continuum Concept: In Search of Happiness Lost, “Just before we arrived, Cesar decided to clear a garden of his own and Pepe helped with every detail… Cesar, after five years assurance, felt that no one was pushing him into the project and was as free to enjoy working as Pepe. Everyone at Arepuchi was glad, Pepe told us, because Cesar had been growing discontent and irritable. ‘He wanted to make a garden of his own,’ Pepe laughed, ‘but he didn’t know it himself!’ Pepe thought it hilarious that anyone should not know that he wanted to work.”
When I first read this story it was Pepe’s laugh that got me. A laugh I heard through the pages of the book. It was a laugh that sounded somehow wise…but wise from life rather than theoretically “book smart”.
The belief that deep down everyone WANTS to work seems like an insane idea at first. To us, WORK is a four letter word. A necessary evil. That thing we ‘must’ do.
Yet, as much time as most of us spend ‘at work’, we don’t actually reflect very often on the idea of ‘work’. I don’t mean what each of us individually wants to do for work or how we progress in our respective careers. I mean reflecting on the very basic idea of work and asking simply: What is the purpose of our work?
Usually we simply act on the assumption that money is the sole reason for working.
Clay brought out a great quote from Mark Vernon in our podcast this week: “Why do people work? It seems like a question with one clear, quick answer, which is money.” However, Vernon points out how many people out there continue to work for no money, or despite the fact that they don’t need the money. So “renumeration cannot be the whole story. People spend a great portion of their lives working. Even if work is a financial necessity, its impact will be felt far more deeply than in the bank. Work accrues meaning to itself. The meaning you derive from work is worth pursuing.” (from 42: Deep Thoughts on Life, the Universe and Everything).
It seems to me that apart from a paycheck, we have some basic needs that work should ideally fulfil…for instance, our need to feel skilled, talented, ‘good’ at something. Or our need to feel our efforts during the day are appreciated by people around us. One of the biggest influences and inspiration for me on this subject of Work has been E.F. Schumacher who wrote an essay entitled ‘Buddhist Economics’. I’ve written more about this in a previous blog post Working Life.
And then there’s that perennial question – What’s it all for? Or, as the great blog post about Mark Vernon’s book Work-a-holics puts it, “I suspect the problem is not so much that we work too hard. Rather, it’s that we work hard without being quite sure what we’re working for.”
Anyway, food for thought this week and I’m sure a topic I’ll keep coming back to. If you want to listen in to our conversation about work on this week’s podcast, tap here. Or, if you’re working too hard, don’t know what you’re working for, or have ideas to share, come chat on the Facebook post here.