There was a time when “work ethic” referred to someone taking pride in quality work. Like a sculptor, blacksmith, baker or whatever doing the best work they could. It was about quality, not quantity.
Now, when people say “work ethic”, it often comes with connotations of always busting your butt, working hard and working as much as possible. Working for the sake of working. I think that’s a ridiculous attitude to have towards work.
What’s the point in constantly working as much as humanly possible when it means you miss out on the rest of your life? It’s a scant minority whose work matches up with their biggest passions and literally is their life. For them, I can understand the latter scenario a bit more.
But for the rest of us who are basically wage slaves chained by debt and bills, it’s a kind of Orwellian “slavery is freedom” mindset. It’s like Stockholm Syndrome towards one’s employer. When our work is not fulfilling and serves only to pay for our most basic needs, and keeps us trapped in the cycle of breaking your back as hard as you can so you hopefully don’t get fired, then you’re not in an ethical work situation. You’re then a cog, not a creator. A slave, not an entrepreneur. A number, not a person.
How do you take pride in being the most efficient cog? The most loyal slave? The most productive number?
When I hear people talk about how one should devote themselves to work, all I can think is that such a person has accepted their slave status and is defending their master, rather than some creative artisan who makes something one can appreciate.
Sure, do a good job. Be a good employee. But don’t buy into the idea that what you’re doing is somehow important. Most of us do jobs that don’t benefit society in any meaningful way. It just benefits the pockets of our employers. Don’t buy into the false grandeur of a skewed “work ethic”.
After all, your employer probably sees you as expendable and replaceable. Anyone with a similar set of skills and experience and replace you at any time, so you have to be a yes man. You have to be obedient and unquestioning, lest ye be ousted. Forget that!
Work should be a reflection of passion, and most of us have been trapped into a set of contracts and debts that don’t really allow for that to be possible. We’ve become owned. There’s nothing to be proud of there. So, even though many are stuck in this situation, we should not be so self-loathing that we find it to be defensible as something to strive towards.
Being higher on a ladder just means you will eventually fall harder. Risk if you want, but be aware that the higher you get, the only difference is a slight transformation from slave to toadie. Nothing to be proud of, for sure. Let your work ethic be the desire to do ethical work, not hard work. To work well, not necessarily often. To bring quality, not quantity.
© 2015 William Suphan
- One of Those Nights