I saw a most wonderful film tonight. The film was wonderful on many levels, not the least of which that it brought out all three of my boys and I to see it. But the film also held many meanings, one of which I want to touch on tonight, the value of work.
The film was “Hugo.” The value of work theme involved the boy’s passion for fixing machines. In the movie, the boy appeals to the policeman, “It is my once chance to work, surely you understand that.” The policeman had been significantly injured in The Great War and was working at the one task left to him, policing the train station, which he took great pains to do well.
In our culture we often talk about a work ethic, which I take to mean that you work hard, play by the rules and have a shot at the American Dream. In this context, the work ethic stands in contrast to the contrived welfare queen role. But there is something profoundly lacking in this ethic. It is devoid of meaning except for the avoidance of idle-ness. It is work defined by what it is not.
The meaning of work is entirely different. This is work as craft. It is work as the creation of self worth. On one level it is even a calling, but on any level, it gives meaning and value. It is an end unto itself.
With our myriad unemployed, they suffer the loss of meaning and value, of self worth, as the days turn into weeks, turn into months, turn into years. Their unemployment is eviscerating a core for their reason for being. Loss of employment does more than create critical economic hardship, it creates existential angst.
Families suffer all the stressors known to human kind, and the long term loss of employment is often one of the worst. Relationships seem not so fluid as to readily be redefined. It seems that, by their redefinition they are often torn asunder. Our culture can decry the many other evils visited upon American families, but joblessness may outrank almost every one of them.
The Great Depression changed people; it changed society, it changed the way that families function. I suspect that the bruising the institution of family suffered then was a psychological burden our culture carried for many generations. In a constant series of over corrections, it may be a burden still felt today. And here we are, as an intentional society, visiting this beast upon ourselves again.
If we care about families, we would care for families. We would nurture our community in ways that support the wellbeing of families which we claim are our fundamental units and not visit economic deprivation upon them and threaten them further with even a return to child labor. The intentional society would take the steps necessary to foster work so that the value of work, the measure of a man, could bring meaning to each and thereby imbue meaning to all. The intentional society would nurture families, not give them more reasons to come apart.
May we make it so.