The Ponder Effect | Are we a society that (still) values work?
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Are we a society that (still) values work?

The common narrative says that America was founded on the desire for independence and the will to work for it. When I think about the people who chose to come here (or didn’t choose to come here) and who toiled in the fields, in the mills, and later in the factories, it makes me feel so—cushy—for lack of a better word. Job performance was a matter of life and death, and most of us wouldn’t fare too well. Of course we don’t have the acquired knowledge, but do we have the required work ethic?

It goes without saying that people today are busy. We have no shortage of work to do. Does that necessarily mean we as a society know and appreciate the value of work? And what is the value of work in the first place?

Here is where we could start trash-talking millennials or debate the merits of welfare programs. It could get accusatory, as it so often does. The beauty of our purpose is that we seek not to answer the question but to ponder it, not to point fingers but to consider points.

Have we, as Americans, lost our sense of the value of work or retained it? Why does it matter?

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7 Ponderings
  • Varina Willse

    September 2, 2018 at 2:21 pm

    I think this is hitting on one of the sources of the divisiveness in our country, because the kind of work we value is different. Those who work in primarily intellectual pursuits may inadvertently (or otherwise) look down on those whose work is primarily physical, and vice versa. We don’t understand each other, and therefore it’s easy to cast judgments. Bankers are crooks, and mechanics are rednecks.
    Regardless, I do think we have lost some of our working spirit. Technology does so much for us, and we expect instant gratification and entertainment all the time. That being said, our country is still home to the best universities in the world. People come here to learn and to do. That is something.

  • Anonymous

    September 3, 2018 at 9:31 pm

    To me, our society has contradictory approaches to work. We certainly glorify the results of hard work: successful entrepreneurs, beautiful pieces of art, masterful movies/plays, etc. But we don’t encourage the process to get there. Or when we do, we expect someone to give so much of themselves to the work that their families and relationships are left in shambles.
    I believe that work gives us purpose and that most people actually like to work when they are valued and can understand the bigger picture of their efforts. Often, our society assumes that people do NOT want to work and has created work cultures around that assumption, where people are seen as expendable, are not provided with the opportunity to grow or advance and where expectations are either not clearly disclosed or should be applied to a machine not a person.
    In my own work environment, we changed the vacation policy to be unlimited. If someone is meeting their hourly expectations, they can take time off whenever they need it. I have had numerous people ask me very concerned about what happens when someone takes advantage of the time off. But, so far, I am happy to say that we have experienced the opposite: more ownership on projects and less of a need for micro-management.
    While I believe that work gives us purpose and helps us grow, I also believe that we must stop and rest. I think our society has a “work hard play hard” mentality where rest is seen as lazy and stopping is out of the question.
    It’s a shame. I imagine if any one of our ancestors visited us today and experienced our time-saving technology, they would be baffled by our stress, our dissatisfaction and our reluctancy to stop and enjoy the process.
    While I do think our society values the results of work, I don’t think it encourages a healthy process and appropriate balance.

  • Anonymous

    September 4, 2018 at 10:13 am

    I see us as a people who love to be entertained, who love to be validated, and who love to be right. Are we also a people who love to be challenged? I think so, but we are sold on the glory of instant gratification and passive income, when our dignity really derives from honest purposeful invigorating work. I think we know that innately but often don’t have the outlet or work environment to promote it. It’s hard to cut through the clutter to enjoy work for work’s sake.

  • Anonymous

    September 5, 2018 at 5:03 pm

    As our society has moved from a mostly industrial economy to a knowledge economy, I think the value placed on work has changed. The value we place on work is also informed by our needs. Do we need a job to pay the bills, or do we need to feel a sense of purpose. Sometimes we need both. Sometimes, we can’t afford to have both. I feel very privileged to see work as a purpose. It informs who I am and how I relate to other humans. It can also have a profound impact on our children and the world we are leaving them. I just ran across this blog post curated by the Nashville Institute for Faith and Work which discusses why Labor Day matters to Christians. An interesting read:

  • Anonymous

    September 6, 2018 at 9:30 am

    Valuing work is a luxury. Work for many is survival. It is making ends meet. As such, it’s difficult to say if “we” value work as it depends on if you work for survival or for some intellectual completeness. If you are working for survival, the value of your work may be making a rent payment or getting to the end of the month with enough food. If you are fortunate enough to work for intellectual completeness, your value might be in your contributions to your industry or to society. I don’t think we have lost our value of work, but perhaps it’s not as intrinsic as we think.

  • Anonymous

    September 6, 2018 at 9:29 pm

    We were created to work -says so in the very first chapter of our Scriptures and over and over again. Yet out culture says we should only work to rest. American retirement aspirational ads – work so you can stop and play golf. Slang – TGIF. Songs – Everybody’s Working for the Weekend. In the Creation, God took chaos and brought structure and then called it good. He did it five times and then the sixth created us and called us very good. Then he told us to go do the same. Almost any job I can think of is taking chaos and bringing structure and trying to call it good. Song writing, excel banking spreadsheets, changing diapers, teaching, starting companies. And they are all creating or redeeming something. That is scriptural too. ……But work is broken and we are broken so we mess it up ….a lot. Did you know that over 70% of Americans are disengaged to miserable in their jobs per a Gallup survey?
    Oh, And we were also created to rest and we mess that up too.
    And by work I mean anything not rest and not leisure – unloading a dishwasher is work.

  • Anonymous

    September 8, 2018 at 10:15 am

    Do we overvalue work and undervalue labor? By work I mean the execution of tasks and by labor I mean physical work. I am constantly busy, and I never have time to fix things that are broken. It’s easier just to call someone in– the specialization/division of labor.. That means I rarely feel the satisfaction of fixing something with my hands. Today we call that “blue collar” and other work “white”– a distinction that is modern and misleading. Lots of good points above but I am left wondering about craftsmanship and whether it’s an endangered species