Monday, June 8, 2009

Irksome Tasks

Faced with a list of chores, none of which inspires enthusiasm, one can wonder how any will get done. It is not the jobs themselves that is the problem. Even time is usually not the problem. It is a matter of will. We often find that once we've begun one of these irksome tasks, we settle into a contented rhythm of movement that leads us to the completion of a mild unpleasantness. The old adage, "once begun, half done" is a terse truth. Even when we feel the real obstacle is fatigue, it is more often ennui that is dispersed with a sincere beginning. What we often cannot see at the outset is the heightened enjoyment and satisfaction we experience at the completion: an onerous job behind us and a pleasure in surveying our labor. The more distasteful or monumental the hurdle, the more often we find ourselves returning to overview results and give ourselves credit for persevering. Work gives us dignity. Challenging work gives us a rightful pride. A completed manuscript, a scoured bathroom, a purged closet, clean gutters, whatever it is that we shun but do, strengthens us. We grow in virtue each time we say yes to the labor; we grow in holiness when we say yes without grumbling.


John Lynch said...

Work gives us dignity.

Strongly disagree.

Lisa said...

It's not an exclusive comment. Other things give us dignity, too. Is that your objection?

Eric Lynch said...

Very articulate post; loved the wordsmithery. John is right though; the notion that work gives us dignity (actually, as espoused in "Small is Beautiful"), at least taken in a vacuum, is starkly utilitarian. That aside, I can really relate to this post as a whole.

John Lynch said...

Eric is essentially correct. I do not believe that human beings receive dignity by virtue of what they do. Human beings have dignity because of what they are. The conclusion that work gives us dignity implies a perverse form of utilitarianism whereby those who are working have more dignity than those who are not, regardless of why one is or is not working. Do we consider someone who is paraplegic to have less dignity than someone who is not? After all, one cannot do most work while the other can. I submit that the answer to this question is firmly in the negative, unless one is being utilitarian.

I think what most people mean when they assert that work gives us dignity is that work demonstrates our dignity or that work is fulfilling (which is just saying that work demonstrates our dignity to ourselves). However, to attribute the origin of dignity to the work that demonstrates it is to reverse the relationship between the two.

Am I being clear or has that just further confused the issue?