Friday, 19 October 2012

Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel

(I haven't posted in a week, because my brain was still going really fast.  But even James noted to me yesterday that I haven't checked in here so I thought I'd try and articulate what I've been distilling in my mind, even in it's raw forms)

Work.  That "dirty" four letter word.  In today's society, efficiency is practically defined by doing the least amount of work possible in order to get a job done.

I'm not sure that is good for us.  In fact, I'm starting to see that it's actually quite bad.

Work used to mean going out into the fields to farm for survival.  If you didn't work your fields and your gardens, you probably didn't eat.  If you didn't work to build your home, you didn't have a roof over your head.  If you didn't work at the talents you were good at, you didn't have the ability to trade for the things you really needed.

Work used to mean physical labour.  It meant picking up a hoe and swinging it into the rocky ground.  It meant scrubbing clothing up and down a washing board.  It meant digging in the garden to harvest.

In today's Western society, with technological advances, we keep eliminating the need for physical work.  A "cushy desk job" is the common goal.  We sit at desks, then sit in cars to go home, and then run to the gym where we pedal on a stationary bike for an hour, or run in one place on a treadmill, to get exercise.  It seems to me that our "efficient" society is anything but.

The absence of physical work is taking it's toll on us.  Physical demands in our jobs are being replaced by mental demands, with a devastating effect.  Stress is building and actually manifesting itself in a physical manner.  Our bodies are rising up in revolt.  After a good, long day of hard work, are bodies are designed to shut down in sleep, to give rest and repair the body.  Stress work is having the opposite effect.  A lack of physical labour is preventing our bodies from functioning properly.

Hard work used to be inherent.  You didn't have to fit in a walk to get exercise; you had to walk if you wanted to get anywhere outside your house.  You didn't have to worry about working your different muscle groups; the activities of daily life worked them all for you.

Our attitude toward work today is creating a culture of stupid laziness.  I use the adjective stupid because laziness isn't just about the absence of hard work, it's the ignorance of its negative effects on us.
Our children mope around complaining about tidying the toy room, using precious "play time" and requiring too much effort.  This behaviour then follows them into adolescence, where they think they are "owed" time to spend on mindlessly in front of screens.

We don't see the "opportunity" for work around us.  Much like our children who resist cleaning their toys, we see work as something lying in our path to self-indulgent pleasure.

I don't exempt myself from these attitudes, but I am starting to recognize them in myself, and am beginning to abhor it.  I am trying an experiment now.  I want to rise in the morning and fill my day with work.  I want to eliminate the idle moments.  That's not to say that a well deserved rest is bad, but I think that rest will be more welcomed, more sweet, and more renewing to my mind and body if it follows good, hard work.  I want to eliminate much of my time spent in unfocused activity, the times I just sort of aimlessly wander about.  I want to be actively engaged in working throughout the day.  I want to be moving as much as I can.  That work could include playing with my children or reading something meaningful, because not all work needs to be getting up a good sweat.  But I do want to be more conscious of including physical labour in my days.  I want to reach the end of the day and have had a good (positive and hard working) physical, mental and spiritual workout.  After that, I hope that at a decent hour I will lie my body down in bed and sink into rest and renewal, ready for a new day in the morning.

This experiment is in it's early stages and is really hard.  But my new motto is "I do hard things."  Not just "I can do hard things" because I already know I have the ability; I need the mental motivation to get myself in gear and to kick the habit of idleness that's crept up on me.

It's going to be a big change, but it will be one that is positive.


Kevin H. said...

"Prince Hal: [...]
If all the year were playing holidays,
To sport would be as tedious as to work;
But when they seldom come, they wished-for come,
And nothing pleaseth but rare accidents."
-Henry IV, Part 1 (1.2.194-7)

To your larger (and more urgent/insistent) point: I like where you're heading with the notion of awareness re: how our time is spent: i.e., hard work isn't merely a means to an end ("to get things done"), but in fact an end unto itself (revitalizing and rejuvenating when properly pursued), so it behooves us to pay closer attention to how we "attack" our day, as it were. Still, one should perhaps be mindful of idealising the past too entirely, since digging ditches and sowing oats, while certainly enough to make us physically exhausted, doesn't exactly leave room for much else....

Terri-Ann said...

One of my favourite tv lines came from Gilmour Girls, when two characters were pining for the "days of yore." A crochety friend observed "Life sucked just as much then as it does now. It just sucked without indoor plumbing."

I always remember that quote whenever I start to think or write about the past. It's true that we idealize things. It's difficult, however, to include all the caveats when you are writing on a theme. I've realized that you just have to write exclusively about your point and then have the reader assume that all things must be taken in moderation and with apropriate exceptions. Another friend made a comment that work back then included child labour. I'm not advocating for a return to child labour, just a consideration for instilling more of a work ethic than exists today.

Kevin H. said...

A big yes to much of the above. And while it might seem unfair or ungenerous to hold you up to journalistic standards, so to speak (heh -- you could probably write another blog entry in the same vein as this one re: the collapse of journalistic standards in modern news media...), it's also true that rhetoric is a powerful thing, and a little bit goes a long way, even in a blog entry. : )

I mean you're right about the benefits of hard work -- physically, emotionally and spiritually -- but I don't think it's necessarily accurate to suggest such a strict dividing line between past and present modes of living. There were just as many lazy, idle people living in the age of the pioneers as there are now (per capita, anyway). They just weren't engaged in taming the new world with their bare hands. They stayed home in Europe and let the energetic folks among them sail off to tackle the Americas with a hearty "God bless you!" and "Fair thee well!" and that was the end of it. : )