Rosicrucian Writings Online
THOUGHT OF THE MONTH
WORK--A LOST ART?
By THE IMPERATOR
[H. Spencer Lewis]
[From The Rosicrucian Digest June 1939]
IT HAS often been said about the indolent person who makes a pretext of searching for employment that "he is hunting for work and praying that he does not find it." If we consider many of the nations of the world today as individuals, we find that their social conduct parallels that of the indolent person. In the congresses and parliaments of the respective nations, the well meaning representatives of the people orate at length, on the one hand, on the unemployment situation. They point out that millions have no resources to purchase the necessities of life because the mills, farms and industries are not able to engage them at any wage whereby they can acquire a livelihood. To this condition they attribute all the ills of the times--restlessness, crime, tyranny, immorality and disease. On the other hand, equally well meaning but often ill advised representatives before these same law-making bodies expound in such a manner on the nature of work that it seems to become a vile, vicious, menacing influence in modern society. They refer to it as something that must be endured only because a way of completely eliminating it has not yet been found. It is referred to as an enslaving condition, one that frequently belittles a man, throttles his individuality, stifles his initiative, curtails his finer faculties and is a heritage from a coarser and more vulgar period remote in the history of man.
Further, one hears a deploring of the tremendous mechanization of industry and agriculture, and the proposal that men work a minimum of four hours a day and four days a week. This suggested restriction of work is not offered merely as a means to provide more employment, but rather so that even in normal times large industrial plants shall be prevented from operating beyond a certain number of hours daily if such operation tends to lengthen the period of individual work. This continual inveighing against work has left an indelible and unfortunate impression upon many minds. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of our younger generation look upon work as a necessary evil. To them it is but a means of providing revenue with which the necessities of life and some of the pleasures can be procured. To put it concisely, the prevalent attitude of mind seems to be that no one likes to work--and yet he must.
Is it, frankly, work that is objected to or what it seems to accomplish? There is no human endeavor, whether pleasurable or not, that does not require mental or physical exertion or both. In other words, if we want to accomplish we must expend an effort, and such constitutes work. The man who paddles a canoe against a strong river current for hours or who toils up a mountain slope may classify his exertions as a vacation pleasure. Yet, fundamentally, they are just as much work from the etymological point of view as though he were being paid for doing it. Would the true mountain-climbing enthusiast lose his love for the sport if it were suddenly entitled "work" by the alchemy of his being paid for it? Hardly. He would revel in the fact that he had the opportunity of pursuing an interest and deriving an income from it at the same time. From this it is clearly apparent that the aversion to work exists only if the work is such that it is not enjoyable and is of a kind that would only be sought as a livelihood. The person who works at something he enjoys never works like a robot with his whole thought and consciousness centered upon the occasional hour or day of freedom. To thousands of persons, perhaps millions, the first five or six days of the week are a nightmare, a sort of ordeal eventually leading to liberation and real living on Saturday night and Sunday. Over the week-end they crowd into a few hours more expenditure of energy than in the performance of their weekly duties. But it constitutes doing what they like.
On the other hand, did you ever find a person who loved mechanics, for example, and who had a job in a shop surrounded by tools, instruments and machines for which he had an affection and which he could use in the following of his trade, who pined each hour for Sunday? Sunday, undoubtedly, would find him pursuing some hobby approaching very closely the nature of his trade. Certainly no successful commercial photographer loathes his lenses, filters, tripods, plates and the paraphernalia and technique he must use. He may become tired on some assignments and others may not interest him quite so much, but his work on the whole is most gratifying. Work becomes a burden only when it does not correspond to our interests, or when the purposes of its details are not understandable to us. There are multitudes today working in factories, at benches or on assembly lines, who have not the slightest conception of the contrivance upon which they are working. They neither know what it is nor how it is to be used. Each day for them consists of hours of soldering perhaps, or tightening something that has a name but no meaning to them. They despise work, because after all it only means to them a harnessing of their bodies to a task from which their minds are divorced. Their minds are idle, they long, desire, imagine, and the body is forbidden to serve the mind. If many of these employees could be educated in the importance of their part in mass production, to feel that they are not merely cogs in a machine, but that they are really doing something essentially important as a unit, as individuals, many of them would assume a sense of responsibility. Further, if they were permitted and encouraged to experiment at certain times on improving the thing that they are working upon by being offered a reward, then their work would become more purposeful. Aside from providing a livelihood it would constitute a challenge to their mental selves, a chance to relate their mental activities to their physical ones while on the job.
Our main interests in life may be of a kind that afford little chance to find employment in them, but most of us have secondary interests, things we like to do nearly as well, and perhaps third or fourth interests, one of which may make employment possible. If life is to become something more than a drudgery, we must train ourselves to fit into an occupation that corresponds to these interests that we have, whether they pay big money or not. After all, it is far better, reasonably, to have continual satisfaction and mild enjoyment in your job than to do daily something you detest only because it pays you that big money that makes the occasional more extensive pleasures possible.
Enjoyable work is creative work, and that does not necessarily mean being a designer, an architect, artist or promoter. It means doing something which requires skill and which would fall short of its high purpose if such skill were not exercised. If we think about it we can realize that an insurance salesman exercises creative ability, if he is at all successful. His job is to obtain policies for his company. He can be creative, however, in devising ways and means of persuasive argument and of eliminating unsound objections to his proposals. He can conceive methods whereby the features of his company can be presented uniquely, differently from the way his competitors present theirs. In other words, he can devise a technique for his vocation. Everyone likes to see something well done through his or her own efforts, whether it is baking a cake or painting a fence. If a man were blindfolded and had to go through the motions of actually painting a fence without realizing what he was doing, the work would become laborious and obnoxious. The monotony would be grueling. On the other hand, if he were shown the fence first and told that it was to be painted so as to beautify the surrounding grounds, and that could only be accomplished by having the texture of the paint, when applied, smooth appearing and that this required the exercise of individual skill, it is safe to say that it would challenge the ability of this worker to do his best. As he applied each stroke, he would see in it its relation to the whole task. He could actually see himself as a creator and realize his accomplishment as he proceeded, and derive consequent satisfaction from each hour of his work.
We find, therefore, two kinds of persons in the world who abhor work; first, those whose work is far afield from their interests and to whom it seems a barrier to the exercise of their personal talents and abilities. Second, those who have never been given a chance to discover their talents or creative attributes, hence all effort of any kind other than that needed to sustain themselves is considered futile, without purpose, and to whom the height of life is loafing, even though that may result in ennui. This growing hatred of work can be largely overcome by obliging college students, for example, to seek--without particular thought as to the amount of compensation to be derived--work during their vacations which simulates to some degree the profession for which they are being trained. Many do this but many more would discover that certain elements of their contemplated profession were so objectionable to them that they would never find ultimate happiness in such an occupation and would abandon it for another in time.
Furthermore, if every boy who could not afford to go farther than high school, or even the eighth grade, were given the opportunity to be analyzed for his vocation (that is, as to what tendencies he displayed, what inclinations he had) and given a chance to work in a government sponsored shop or office at something that corresponded to those inclinations for a month or two, his creative abilities would be awakened and he would immediately orient himself, find his true place in life. He would not need to guess that he would like this or like that, and get himself ensconced in a trade or job which later he would come to despise but could not easily forsake. If difficulty was encountered in determining a lad's tendencies and abilities, he could be placed at various tasks, in the industrial arts and sciences for example, until the discovery was made of what intrigued his imagination and reasoning. Those who refused to submit to this vocational selection and preparation, now done on a very small scale, would have to suffer performance of uninspiring menial work. They would have to live just for the occasional Sunday or time-off interval, as millions now do, finding their happiness only periodically.
The great industrialist, Henry Ford, in his broad vision has seen this problem and has conducted successful experiments in the attempt to solve it. He has taken boys with no aptitude for urban occupations, and to whom the usual jobs available meant work in a disagreeable form, and placed them on his great experimental farm. Each has been assigned to a group, which group is given certain responsibilities of performing a task. Members of the group have every opportunity of creating ways and means of successfully performing the task. The competitive spirit is encouraged, yet the pay is the same whether they succeed or fail. Everything they do is always shown them to be in a definite relationship to their responsibility and to the duties of their group. Each of their acts can be seen by them to contribute to the whole. Work is not labor to them but a continual means to an end. It becomes the art of living instead of the serfdom of civilization.
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