BITE-SIZE PHILOSOPHY (55) – Is there more to work?

Rev José Mario O Mandía

We need to work in order to earn a living. This is the most basic motive for work. But is there more to work than just survival? We know there is.

Through work, we cultivate our senses,  we refine our sentiments, we form our mind/intellect, we strengthen our will.

Through work, we grow in the human virtues. If we work well and with an open mind, we develop habits such as good time management, punctuality, efficiency, orderliness, care for little details, constancy, a spirit of creativity and initiative, a sense of responsibility and accountability, love for the truth, concern for others, respect, compassion, the ability to communicate effectively and to listen to others, teamwork, leadership, integrity, a sense of realism, and humility. Through work, we become more human.

Through work, we serve our family and society at large.

Through work, we fulfill a God-given responsibility. Sacred Scripture says that God gave us the earth “to till it and keep it” (Gen 2:15) and to “have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Gen 1:28).

Through work, we can earn heaven, we can become holy. “Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you are serving the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23-24).

Saint John Paul II, in his Encyclical Laborem ExercensLE) pointed out that work has two aspects: the objective and the subjective.

The objective aspect of work refers to what a person is working on. He could be working the earth directly, working on the products extracted from the earth, or in service industries, or in pure or applied research (cf LE 5).

This objective aspect often involves the use of technology. “It [1] facilitates his work, [2] perfects, [3] accelerates, and [4] augments. It leads to an increase in the quantity of things produced by work, and in many cases improves their quality” (LE 5).

However, there is a downside to technology: “It is also a fact that, in some instances, technology can cease to be man’s ally and become almost his enemy, as [1] when the mechanization of work ‘supplants’ him, taking away all personal satisfaction and the incentive to creativity and responsibility, [2] when it deprives many workers of their previous employment, or [3] when, through exalting the machine, it reduces man to the status of its slave” (LE 5).

More important, however, is the subjective part of work: the human person, the one who works. The Bible tells us that man is made in God’s image and likeness. This makes him capable of sharing in the Creator’s work. He is “a subjective being capable of acting in a planned and rational way, capable of deciding about himself, and with a tendency to self-realization” (LE 6; cf “Bite-Size Philosophy” 47)

Therefore, man’s work “must all serve to realize his humanity, to fulfil the calling to be a person that is his by reason of his very humanity” because “the one who carries it out is a person, a conscious and free subject, that is to say a subject that decides about himself” (LE 6).

The Pope pointed out that in the ancient world, people were differentiated into classes according to the work that they did. Manual labor “was considered unworthy of free men, and was therefore given to slaves” (LE 6). But John Paul II says that “the basis for determining the value of human work is not primarily the kind of work being done but the fact that the one who is doing it is a person.”

He adds, “This does not mean that, from the objective point of view, human work cannot and must not be rated and qualified in any way. It only means that the primary basis of the value of work is man himself, who is its subject.” (LE 6)

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