Outlook on Work and Vocation

Published 22 Feb 2017

It all started when a man is fertilized to become man. Of the million sperm cells that fought its way to the awaiting egg ready for fertilization – work commenced.

“Work is the ransom paid for the sake of keeping alive. Man is condemned to labor because he must expiate the original sin. Nevertheless it should not be thought that labor suffices to restore man’s lost status or dignity before God. Holy Scripture says that: ‘All the labor of man is for his mouth, and yet the appetite is not filled’ (Ecclesiastes 6:7)…..'” (The Dictionary of the History of Ideas)

But way above the ethical consideration surrounding the principles, value and meaning of work – time, man and his life are encapsulated within those four letters. Any menial or grandiose kind labor or work gives meaning to the dignity and entirety of man and his life. It is through labor that he attains his initial respect and thus, reconcile that, part and parcel of his waking up everyday is to stretch his muscles; sweat his brow and dwell on his responsibilities.

Work endows man with all kinds of reward and recognition that every aspect of his being need and deserve: physically, economically, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually. It is the ultimate destination of the contribution of parental breeding; environmental influences and pursuits of formal and informal education: all to prepare man to work.

“Ancient thought, however, does not lack various expressions of a certain appreciation of human labor, apart from any prejudice that others may have had. In general such assertions are found among authors belonging to the school of Sophists and other minor schools. For example, Antiphon proclaims the harsh necessity of work insofar as life is accepted for what it is. This life is certainly not easy or sweet, but it nevertheless acquires meaning when it is crowned with success (Stobaeus, IV, 22.2.66; a fragment translated in I sofisti, ed. M. T. Cardini, Bari [1923], p. 126; also in Minor Attic Orators, Loeb Library, Vol. I). But Prodicus of Chios, in the circle of the Sophists, states the definitive thesis about work in his apology, Herculesat the Crossroad. Referring to Xenophon’s Memorabilia (II, 1, 21-34), Prodicus insists on the virtue of labor which gives dignity to the life of man.” (The Dictionary of the History of Ideas)

So, time and civilization moved on – immersed within the normal calling of work and labor. And man saw with the development of the times; the growth of civilization; the development of discoveries and invention; the challenging and competitive society he himself brought forth – that work and labor can redound to newer light, complicated light, cynical light, inspiring light, challenging light, imperative light, robotic light.
Now, work is a complex of and a paradox of moral and practical values. The conflict may start within himself. He may for a moment be in a driven position. He is confident of his qualification; the employment he is enjoined; the work objectives he shares. Along the line, he might transpire to be confused, angst ridden, even betrayed, even threatened. Conversely, there is an awakening as to how positive perspective of work can come about.
“Today we are experiencing a revolution in the workplace. Not only are institutions and huge conglomerates crumbling around us, our traditional ideas about work itself are dissolving. As a society we are undergoing a radical change in the way we think of work. We are starved for meaning and purpose in our lives, and with the breakdown in job security in the corporate world, we are no longer willing to separate our values from our work.

There is a yearning to align life purpose with work to make it meaningful. The Buddhists call this Dharma, spiritual work, the vehicle for Spirit to express its blessing. It is both inner work, remembering our true Self, and outer work, the expression of our unique talents and role in the evolution of humanity. Work is meaningful when we add to the quality of life to those around us. Work is a vehicle for our creations to be a blessing to the world.” (Naiman 1998)

A modern day, celebrated American author, Louis “Studs” Terkel took into contemplation as to what workers have to say about their calling and their lives. He went and interviewed a great number and wide variety of workers, professionals, employees, career persons. All of the synopsis on their work and the meaning it correlated to their lives were all encapsulated in the book “Working….”.

The subjects of the interview reflected in introspection on the wide spectrum of their daily lives vis-à-vis their jobs. There were the good and the bad. There were the innocent times and the knowing times. There were the abuse and there were the respect. There were times of job searching – that resulted to either being accepted or rejected. And there were the experiences of transition in modernization of work: with the aid of mdoern machines and technology. And work as exemplified in the interiews of Mr. Terkel was for purposes of both achieving their meaning as human beings and ensuring their food on the table everyday.

But there are many attributes that came about and around the workplace, the every changing demands and expectations redound to the likewises changes in demands and expectations of the worker from his work and his life.

The infusion of different models of work pattern and expectations can create confusion. Work to have transcended for the better firstly went through raw stages, through infantile stages of trial and error.

“In the past, in the mass-production model, simple, narrowly defined jobs filled by people whor equired neither technical nor educaiton sophistication led to the need for complex, sometimes arcane processes in which employees has no sense of the big picture and the left hand rarely knew what the right was doing; what’s more, no one seemd to care. While designed to meet the needes of companies, not customers, and short on overall efficiency, these processes provided control over the workforce, made all but the most basic training unnecessary, and enable the easy and inexpensive replacement of one worker with another. Employer were, in fact, frequently the least critical, least considered element in the process. In the mass-production model – and its antecedents – forcus was on compliance, not commitment; on doing what you’re asked, not what you think; on money and trinkets as motivators rather than the work itself; on the accomplishments of the individual laborer, not the work group; and on internal competition rather than internal cooperation…….and this won’t work. Nor will the practices that underlie it.” (Heil, Parker, Stephens 182-183)

A steelworker interviewed by Terkel said: “I am a dying breed. A laborer. Strictly muscle work….pick it up, put it down….” (Terkel xxxi). This can lead to reckoning that workers have the impression of being imposed upon, of being forced into responsibilities, of being dragged.

But on the other hand, there is light at the end of the tunnel towards man’s outlook on work. There is the reality of fast moving modernization of technology. Management principles have evolved into better and better heights.

Between issues of economics and purchasing power and inflation and employment rates and growth indicators, man is still capable of viewing his work with a sense of vocation. The modern day worker can still find inspiration somewhere to elevate his sights; aim high; dream on; work hard. Social augmentations in the form of retirement plans; work incentives; recognitions – have been put to place. This is apart from instilling in the worker, the professional, that he is the ultimate value in a workplace.

The overall result of Terkel’s interview in “Working…..” regrettably may seem defeatist. But there is still a focal workforce that can see the better of light. They are now exposed to a more positive attributes of the workplace and the other members of the community of man that augment and are the beneficiaries of their labor.

“Understanding the nature of creativity and how to develop it at the personal and organizational level will help us create the world we want. ……. Understanding the cycles of creation will help us thrive in change, rather than to fear it. Developing our imagination, the language of the soul, allows Spirit to work through us as we answer our calling. The industrial revolution spawned the Information Age. With technology as king, it was supposed to save us from the drudgery of work and allow more time for leisure. However, the system itself had not changed. Work was still based on the old model of masculine values: logic, linear time, and linear thinking. Work was about consumption, security, status, domination, and control. Work was based on fear. The problem with the old model of work was that it had no heart, no soul, and no connection with human values. We are now moving from the Information Age into the “age of brainware” or “creation intensification,” according to the Nomura Research Institute of Japan. Microsoft is an example of creativity in action. Like many companies born in the Information Age, it is constantly reinventing itself, dissolving old ideas and creating new models and new forms. “Microsoft’s only factory asset is the human imagination,” declared The New York Times in 1991.” (Naiman 1998)

One present-day work professional is interviewed to share views on her job and the result is definitive of how work has now evolved. Work can be viewed with positive attributes, wherein commitment is shared. It can thus come to pass that work can be a vocation wherein values that are priceless can be seen and even breed. “I believe am aptly rewarded. Management in general values me”. (Personal Interview 2007)
There is of course the reality that work and vocation are exemplified at an extreme end of the spectrum. The case of the workers in China producing the Barbie Dolls have been put on the center of controversy. “The workers described in Barbie’s Betrayal saw their jobs as a demised sense of torture. They felt that they were discriminated against and that they had no true enjoyment or satisfaction for the works and toys that they helped to create. Mattel treated their employees as if they were criminals and humiliated them in front of other employees and management. There was no consideration for the rights of the workers or the conditions that they were being made to work in.” (WebCT Discussions 2007)

Conversely, the undertakings of a group towards to society and mankind truly illustrate the ideals and profound intentions of service. “The Catholic Worker Movement focused on people working as a community. Dorothy Day, Founder of The Catholic Worker Movement believed people should help one another as a family. She wanted people to have a sense of belonging. People working together throughout the community would make a better way of life. (WebCT Discussions 2007)

Therefore, work can be a vocation and answering a vocation requires work. There are heroes and there are also the deprived that can come about from the workplace and the work principles of modern day. The mystery of such paradox and cynicism can only be managed and handled on the personal level of the worker.

Works Cited Page:

  • “Work”. The Dictionary of the History of Ideas.
  • Naiman, Linda. “Creativity and the Meaning of Work” Perspectives on Business and Global Change. World Business Academy and Berrett-Koehler. March, 1998,
  • Heil, Gary; Parker, Tom; Stephens, Deborah C. “One Size Fits One: Building Relationships
  • One Customer and One Employee at a Time”. Van Nostrand Reinhold International Thomson Publishing Inc.1997, p.182-183
  • Terkel, Louis Studs. “Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do”. New Press. New Edition. 1997, p, xxxi
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