Playing With Work
Posted by Keith on Dec 1, 2002 - 8:25:00 PM
LOS ANGELES—OK. If working is such a wonderful endeavor, then why is the imagery intended to depict it so unflattering? Working like a dog, A slave to his job, Beast of burden, Working stiff, Workaholic. The same can be said of work-place experiences: Job related stress, Overworked and underpaid, Working yourself to death, All work and no play... Not exactly positive reinforcement. Yet the opposite of "work" fares no better: Unemployed, Jobless, Laid off, Terminated. Nothing having to do with work is ever portrayed positively, but rather, more often than not, as a chore to be endured: "...I can't go. I have to work", Working on your algebra, Back to work. And when there is a positive image, it doesn't have anything to do with actually working at all: Labor of love,"Work with me, baby!", That'll work, Works like a charm. The word can even have a positively hideous connotation: "Arbit Macht Frei" (work makes free), as displayed on the front gate of Auschwitz. So much for semantics...
Photo by Jessica Griffiths/Canyon News
This seemingly ambiguous and rather schizoid description of "working" says more about us than it does about work, namely that we not only don't know what it means, but we don't even know how to define what it actually entails! My wife doesn't work, yet she has the world's hardest job (raising our three young children and living with me). Some people play at work (professional athletes and musicians), while others get paid not to work (social security and unemployment benefits recipients). There are those who work but don't get paid (volunteers), and those who get paid but don't do any work (middle and top-level corporate management). Some like their job but dislike working, others work hard and diligently at illegal endeavors. And, of course, there are those who do the Lord's work. There are good jobs and bad jobs, odd-jobs and temp jobs, scam jobs and hand jobs, ring jobs and blow jobs. "Doing a job" has a sinister and negative connotation and can land you in jail, while "Having a job" is positive and will get you dates. And all for
the changing of the verb.
Then there are the many whose daily work imparts unto them a sense of dignity and worth. To these people work is cathartic, a form of self-help therapy for deep-seated insecurities, while simultaneously providing Freudian reinforcement and justification for behavior normally associated with penis envy. Getting paid for this neurosis only encourages perpetuation of it. You want dignity and worth? Then learn to play rhythm-and-blues on the saxophone.
In the final analysis, working is rather silly. It's difficult to define or even describe clearly, it's based on the ideological troika of mortal ego, guilt and insecurity, and, in any event, it never seems to be finished! One's "Life's Work" just might yield something worthwhile, but for the vast majority, probably not. The noble, though expendable, proletariat is left to wonder at career's end, "Was that it!?" All in all, working has always struck me as a rather pointless way of asserting oneself, offering only false enrichment, and delivering little in the way of metaphysical need. Work is for those who can do little else--like caged mice running endlessly on an exercise wheel--and my contempt for it is exceeded only by my inability to keep a job!
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