Why Work?

Dorothy Sayers wrote an article ‘Why Work?’ during World War II. The piece is still relevant for our day and society. It is interesting that such a wonderful piece of writing should be available for about 70 years which could have revolutionized the way we work and yet we continue to have such poor attitude to work.

She explained work as ‘a creative activity undertaken for the love of the work itself…for the sake of doing well a thing that is well worth doing’. The reason we work should not be for the money the work will fetch, but for the sake of the goodness of the work. But the monetary returns of a work is so much ingrained in us that we cannot think in terms of the work being done. The worth of a work is not measured by how much money the person made but how worthy is the thing that is made.

When we work on a hobby, we work for the pleasure of it. We don’t count the time and money invested on it because we love the work and has no expectation of financial returns. Our reward is the pleasure that we receive from engaging in that hobby. Our attitude towards work should be like working on a hobby.

How do we measure the worth of a work? We try to monetize everything. When we see a beautiful flower, we ask the gardener, ‘how much is it worth?’ By that, we are asking the market rate of the particular species of the flower. But the absolute value of a thing is beyond economics. It belongs to religion. Therefore, as a Christian, she asks, ‘What is the Christian understanding of work?’ When the Christian asserts that he is made in the image of God, it means that the creature is made in the image of the creator. The Christian God is a working God and humans are to reflect that image. Work is ‘the natural exercise and function of man’. ‘Work is not, primarily, a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do….the thing in which he finds spiritual, mental, and bodily satisfaction, and the medium in which he offers himself to God’.

When the employer seeks for cheap labor and the worker seeks for the best paid job, often people are caught in the wrong job, where the type of worker is not suited for the type of work. One should not seek employment for mere employment but for the quality of the work. The work that we are engaged in ought to be something worth doing, something in which we can take pride. Our work should be marked by honesty, beauty, and usefulness of the goods produced.

It is wrong that the Church should demand that secular workers neglect their work for the sake of church work like religious meetings and church bazaars. So often many government employees neglect their office work for so-called church building committee meetings, holy land tours, and revival crusades. The Church should recognize that secular work is sacred. A very important lesson Sayers has for us is that Church should not be only concerned about the morals of the worker but the worker’s work itself. It is not enough that the carpenter is asked not to drink and regularly come to church. What is required of a carpenter is that he should make good tables. Actors for a Christian movie are selected for their morals rather than for their acting ability, resulting in bad Christian movie. Sayers urges, ‘Christians are called to serve God in their profession and not outside it’. And we should be good at it.

Morung Express Editorial

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