REFLECTION: Dignity of labor PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 13 November 2011 15:30


I feel that we have to resurrect from the grave the dignity of labor. For long, it has fallen into such disrepute that our young generation today often thinks of it as a curse, a compulsory evil, or a plague to be avoided at all costs.

Even those who may be considered as intelligent and well-motivated, going to schools, training programs and all that, often succumb to the wrong notion that their high education can take them away from some work they consider lowly.

That is not just right. Work and labor, whether manual or intellectual, in the fields and farms or in offices, is always part of our human nature, part of God’s design for us to make us image and likeness of his, and even children of his.

Any kind of work, as long as it is honest work, affirms our humanity. It actualizes whatever potentials we have. It is the way we contribute to the common good, the main means to earn our living. Work and labor just make us legitimately proud and happy.

More than these, it enables us to share in God’s providence over us, a way to reach our spiritual and supernatural goal. We need to highlight this truth, because the prevalent understanding of work detaches it from its objective divine context. Indeed, it can be our path to be with God right in the middle of the world.

While it’s true that we can have different aptitudes toward different kinds of work—some are meant more for white-collar jobs than the blue ones, others better as managers than clerks, some prefer to till the land than handle computers, etc.—truth is all of us need to work, and any kind of work would just be fine.

I would even venture to say that he who discriminates against the simple, ordinary work like the household chores would already be handicapped to tackle the bigger, extraordinary tasks we can encounter in life.

Remember our Lord saying: “He who is faithful in little is also faithful in much.” We need to digest the wisdom of these words well.

I think this point is crucial especially these days when we are experiencing rapid developments that often cause changes and disruptions. We have to learn to be flexible—to retrain ourselves when it is requisite given a situation, and to be ready to take on whatever job is necessary or convenient at the moment.

We need to be upbeat about these challenges, and avoid falling into passivity, waiting for the so-called ‘right job’ to come to us. The ideal attitude should enable us to be a CEO of a conglomerate one day, and a gardener the next day without suffering any crisis.

We have to reinforce the attitude that was expressed one time by our Lord when he said: “I came to serve and not to be served.” At another instance, he recommended that we should always remind ourselves that we are simply “unprofitable servants,” doing only what we are supposed to do.

We should not mind whether, in our unavoidable human rankings, we are on top or at the bottom, in front or at the back, the main actor or just an extra. We should be happy where we are placed at the moment, as long as we are working.

We have to avoid a culture of privileges and entitlements, though some fair remuneration for our work is always necessary. But we need to take extra care to avoid taking our work out of its primordial nature and reason.

Our problem is that we tend to take our duty to work out of its original context in the plan of God, and spin a merely human culture around it that distorts its nature, character and purpose.

And so our labor easily becomes an instrument of pride, vanity, greed, deceit, envy, hatred, etc. And from these, what can we expect but injustice and inequality in society, and later on, spreading social disturbances until things reach a flashpoint for collapse?

Early on in life, when people are still children in their respective homes, we should be taught clearly about this objective dignity of work and labor. Everyone needs to be shown how to love work, acquire the proper attitudes and habits.

I once met a young man who was a successful yuppie with a top position in the corporate world, but who remained simple and humble, willing and eager to do household chores like cooking and washing dishes. I pray there be more of him.