“Work, After All, Is What Makes Us Human”

There is a parable from the Bible that is really interesting.  Jesus tells about a boss (landowner) who hires workers for his vineyard.  He keeps hiring additional workers, throughout the day (at about three hour intervals) to work in his vineyard.  At the end of the day, they are all given the same pay, even those who were chosen for the shortest amount of time at work.  (The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard, Matthew 20:1-16).

It is a tough parable to interpret.  But maybe one meaning is this – it is in fact much more fulfilling, rewarding, human, to work than not to work.  Maybe the landowner kept dishing out the sheer grace of providing work itself.   Just having work to do is its own, very great reward.

And wishing you had work to do, when you have no work to do, can be very dehumanizing.

This I know.  When I have work to do; when it is meaningful work; when I feel a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment; there is a deep joy in that experience.  And, at times in my life when work was overflowing with conflict (oh, that is a frequent experience for so many – and, sadly, that was much of my experience in my earlier ministry days — and yes, much of it was probably my own fault), or when my work was not quite fully defined, or when my work was drudgery, then life itself felt unsettled.  But when my work feels just right, it absolutely energizes me, fulfills me, even excites me.

This is the essence of these two quotes from Richard Florida in The Great Reset:

Each and every type of work – shop work, factory work, knowledge work, service work, agriculture work – can be meaningful and special, or it can be mind-numbing, monotonous, and dehumanizing.  My greatest hope is that the current Reset can help us fashion a new commitment to work and enable every single person to do work he or she enjoys, that pays well, and that it truly motivating.  At the end of the day, it’s not what we buy that truly fills our souls and gives us a positive self-image and identity, it’s the work we do.  Work, after all, is what makes us human…  Although we’ve set up a construct over time in which we compartmentalize work on one side and joyful relaxation on the other, work is key to happiness.  We thrive when we do work that is challenging and exciting.


Too much of what led up to the crisis in the old bubble days – the conspicuous consumption, the latter-day Gatsbyism – was fueled by a need to fill a huge emotional and psychological void left by the absence of meaningful work.  When people cease to find meaning in work, when work is boring, alienating, and dehumanizing, the only option becomes the urge to consume – to buy happiness off of the shelf, a phenomenon we now know cannot suffice in the long term.

What about you?  Do you have meaningful work to do?  If so, then consider yourself blessed, and be grateful, and diligent in the midst of such joy.  Do you supervise others?  Then aim to help them experience meaning in their work?  Seek to reduce conflict, seek to encourage all in their work, and remember to always make work humanizing, never dehumanizing.

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