“Why are you interested in this job?" the interviewer asks the applicant.
The applicant responds: "I've always been very interested in not starving to death.”
Not starving is good. Work is a means of not starving. Thus work is a good means to a good end.
Furthermore, work is experienced as good when we work at something we enjoy, suits our interests and abilities, and benefits our fellow human beings. We are happy in our work when we have the right job.
However, what would otherwise be good can become bad. Someone quips: “You don't work, you have no money to live; you work, you have no time to live.” Working all the time means there is not enough time spent with others and on relationships, and those are the things that make us human. Thus work has the potential to become unhealthy, dehumanizing servile labor.
Perhaps we could say the constant availability for work made possible by today’s technology serves as an image of this servitude. This is not to say technology is inherently evil. The potential for evil is discovered in the potential for devices to foster a servile mentality; that is, a mentality that believes one’s value lies in one’s ability to, and availability for, work. This mentality leads to servile behavior. One gets in the disordered habit of living to work rather than working to live. The ready reach of communication devices plays into the disorder.
Furthermore, the devaluing of the very old and the very young, the incapacitated and the ill, is fostered by the belief that human value lies in the ability to work. This devaluation is symptomatic of a societal sickness in which people exist for the economy, which stands in sharp contrast to the healthy condition of an economy that exists for people. Thus work is not rewarding service to fellow human beings, but human beings are treated as units of productivity of value only so long as they produce. People begin to be seen as disposable.
In conclusion, work is ordinarily a good means to a good end, but it can become an evil. A powerful antidote to the evil of servile labor is intentional rest, refreshment and recollection. This notion is contained in the Jewish and Christian concepts of Sabbath. Have a Sabbath day without work. Set aside a little Sabbath time each workday. Dare to turn off or mute the cellphone (for a time anyway) in the home as well as the theater, the airplane, the school and the church.
Deacon Scott Watford is pastoral associate at St. Nicholas of Myra Catholic Church, Hays.