Recent comments by presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann have stirred up the discussion about gay marriage once again. While speaking to a group of high school…
When did we develop and idolatrous relationship with work? Now, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not talking about productivity over laziness. What I mean is that we tend to place value on people based on how hard we believe they are working. Besides simply being thinly veiled judgmentalism (and possibly several other -isms as well), we don’t even seem to agree on a proper definition for “hard work.”
Is it earning wages? Is it a function of the number of hours one puts in? Is it the kind of work one does? It seems to have been reduced to “I know it when I see it.” The problem with that is that no one actually operates on that principle. the number of times my husband or I have heard that teachers earn too much, people on welfare are lazy, or that I ought to think about getting a “real” job is rapidly approaching nausea-inducing levels.
At this point in my life, I’m still a stay-at-home mom. For now, that pretty much means that I homeschool our six-year-old (most days), keep the house tidy (more or less), take care of the dishes and the laundry (usually), and make meals (fairly often). It also means that I have some spare time to blog about our failed science experiments, teach Sunday school, and play with an amateur orchestra. I also have an unpaid job as Family Chauffeur. Am I working hard? That’s difficult to say. On a good day (most of them), it doesn’t even feel like work. So maybe I’m just living it up, mooching off my husband’s salary. After all, I’m not contributing to the family income.
I have several friends and family members receiving public benefits. They may not be working, or working many hours, at a paid job. But every single one of them is contributing to family and society in a variety of ways. And each is receiving benefits for different reasons. When I mention this to the Frown on Welfare Brigade, they are hasty to say, “Well we don’t mean them, really. We’re talking about those other people.” (Incidentally, we get the same answer when we ask if they believe my teacher husband’s salary should be cut.) And of course, someone always has to bring in the Big Guns. Someone always claims to know of someone who uses food stamps to buy nothing but junk, or uses welfare to pay for cable and lets the kids starve.
Is this what we’re reduced to? Arguing over whether a person is valuable to society because he or she isn’t “working”? Work is not what should define us. It’s not an ideal to aspire to, in terms of hours logged. And if it were about actual toil, construction workers and farmers would be at the top, with business managers and technical specialists at the bottom.
Instead of misunderstanding and resenting one another based on something so meaningless as working for work’s sake, why not put our efforts to better use? Why not create common goals and labor for those together?