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  • Marie Trout

Society Hits the Pause Button–Is it Time to Redefine the Meaning of Work?

Unemployment numbers are rising. This trend will continue for the foreseeable future. It is painful and stressful. It is scary. Many of us wake up in the middle of the night with our minds racing about how we will be able to meet our financial responsibilities.

For many of us, this is not a new experience.

We routinely wonder how we will be able to take care of those we love.

We routinely wonder how we will be able to take care of ourselves.

Added to it now, is societal uncertainty with the virus spreading and leaders waffling in response.

Government intervention is heralded as the solution or mocked as the problem.

The truth is, most stimulus efforts are band aids that will help, but not fix the underlying, systemic problems we are facing.

Fundamental, philosophical, and deeply-rooted changes are needed.

Our thoughts about who we are as a society are based on stories we tell ourselves and each other. Stories based on our values and sets of morals that we codify into laws, regulations, and modes of conduct.

For too long, we have bought into some tale about work ethic that promises that hard work pays off; that the wealthy are blessed by God, and that the poor are lazy.

This story falls apart a little more each day. Work is not compensated proportional to effort. People with vile sets of morals are wealthy, and many poor people work sixty-hour weeks.

What are examples of work in the second decade of the twenty-first century? It could be:

· A janitor fixing leaky faucets and fixing the heating at an elderly care facility

· A parent spending the day exploring with their child

· A caregiver holding life together for someone who is sick or disabled

· A Wall Street trader trading

· A high school teacher preparing and correcting assignments

· A surrogate mother giving hope to a couple who cannot conceive

· A mom, dad, son, or daughter planning and cooking a meal for their family

· A friend answering a call for help in the middle of the night

· A musician on stage playing or singing

· A powerful business owner seeking to intimidate contractors by using substantial legal and economic firepower.

· Attorneys delivering such firepower

· A politician going over strategy with his/her staff.

· A construction worker on scaffolding

· A Walmart employee moonlighting as an Uber driver

· An investor backing a new business

· A parent going over homework assignments with their child

· A daughter or son helping ailing parents

· An Inheritor meeting with financial advisors to secure their inherited wealth in inflation proof investments

· An artist painting

· An electrician replacing old wiring

· A firefighter battling an out-of-control fire

· A band manager traveling to meet with business partners on different continents

· A scientist testing a new medicine for effectiveness

· A CEO meeting with the Board of Directors

· A factory worker repeating the same action thousands of times per day

· A Coffee shop barista perfecting a Flat White

· A radio DJ planning what music to play on the air

· A maid with a bad back changing sheets and cleaning hotel rooms

· A writer blogging about current affairs

· A retiree volunteering at a food bank

In our old stories about work, many of these jobs, positions, and contributions are not at all compensated monetarily.

In our old stories about work, some kinds of jobs benefit very few and pay extremely well.

In our old stories about work, we do not consider the benefit to others in order to estimate payment.

In our old stories about work, being “smart” is often synonymous with being able to con the system legally (or illegally and not get caught).

In our old stories about work, it is our own fault if our work doesn’t pay well enough for us to be self-sufficient.

In a society that is overwhelmingly focused on money as measuring stick for success, many talented and capable humans implicitly get the message that their contribution, no matter how exhausting, inventive, or respected it may be, doesn’t measure up.

Many valuable, society-sustaining efforts are not able to provide an income on which a person can survive.

In a society where compassion, kindness, creativity, and love often are considered voluntary and poorly compensated, and in which callousness, greed, persuasion, and exploitation often are rewarded handsomely, it is no wonder that we often feel hopeless, manipulated, and stuck when thinking about the future.

The Coronavirus outbreak shines a light on the fact that many of our old stories are losing their meaning.

This crisis shows how vulnerable our society is, how dependent we are on each other, and how fleeting and unsustainable our perceived autonomy and independence really is.

We can close our eyes to it, deny it, and rebel against it, but doing so will necessitate increasingly undemocratic principles to hold the old stories together.

How do we connect to a new story?

How do we create the shift in how we see ourselves, each other, and our society?

How do we create new ways of relating and start appreciating, also by compensating monetarily, what makes life worth living?

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