One of the top news stories this Labor Day weekend appropriately covered the current upbeat jobs report. I don't really understand the nuances about the relationship between inflation and the pros and cons of more people going back to work, but I do understand the importance of economic stability and national welfare when people are working and have access to jobs that provide a livable wage.
I paid particular attention to a commentary that noted that many new jobs were in the medical, technical, and business fields, for example, that provide wages that would allow employees to gain wealth. That sounded somehow too narrow a goal for why we work. Now I am pleased, of course, when a job pays well as a reward for one’s commitments and skills. But I don’t particularly agree that the primary goal of work should be to create financial wealth. It may seem naive or simplistic, but I hope that whatever our financial aspirations for working also lead us to also value the life-giving wealth of our labors to the community and the earth itself. The higher value of our work is that we not only are able to provide for our own needs, but we are entrusting our labor to the common wealth and common life of others that we have been so privileged to have received.
It is not always possible to engage in work that is fulfilling, and many of us over the years have had jobs that were not only difficult but often simply onerous and dull. But it is also possible to make even tedious jobs interesting if we are willing to try to find creative approaches to whatever we are doing within a context of service. In my twenties, while doing anti-war work, I once worked part time for most of a year in a warehouse doing Manpower day labor assembling and pushing office furniture around all day. But I truly enjoyed the motley crew of misfits, draft dodgers, and wandering souls like myself that managed to laugh, tell our stories, and make the otherwise mostly unredemptive work worthwhile, and I remember those days fondly. And I always admire anyone I meet in the workplace who is engaged in the task at hand while also warmly relating to their fellow workers and all they meet. I hope you are one of those folks! And I have been privileged for most of my life to have work that was rewarding enough financially and personally that I can feel that my labor also contributed to the greater wealth of my community and environment.
It is somehow deeply satisfying to acknowledge that in addition to our incomes and accomplishments our work also has been within a context of relational and emotional workplace wealth. Kahlil Gibran in The Prophet writes that “Work is love made visible. All work is empty save when there is love...When you work with love you bind yourself to yourself, and to one another, and to God...And what is it to work with love? It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart, even as if your beloved were to wear the cloth. And it is to build a house with affection, even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house. When you work you fulfill a part of earth’s farthest dream…and keeping yourself with labour you are in truth loving life.”
I want to honor work for the sacred contribution to the overall wealth in our lives. The value of our work is more that financial rewards and establishing economic wealth and presumed security. We live within a network of interdependent labor that sustains and blesses our lives. The success of our world’s mutual interdependence creates the ultimate wealth of our labors.