|Rehumanizing Work Is Essential to the Success of the Green Movement|
|Monday, 26 July 2010 00:00 | Written by Charleen Touchette | Commentary|
Work is central to our lives as human beings. It can be essential for physical survival to provide basic necessities of food, clothing, shelter and fuel—and is for many an essential requisite for emotional survival. While work is a part of most people’s experience, when that work is purposeless and dehumanizing rather than creative and uplifting, it causes unhappiness worldwide.
In indigenous cultures, work is integrated into daily life within the community. Creativity flourishes and is encouraged for the information, invention, innovation and beauty it contributes. Indigenous people from the Sami, Innuit and Y’upik in the Arctic to the Maori in New Zealand, the Masai in Kenya, the Mi’kmaq in Nova Scotia and the Lakota in Pine Ridge use available natural materials to make things for use, gift-giving and trade.
In indigenous cultures that predated the conquests of Asia, the Middle East, Europe, Australia, Africa and the Americas, creative work was respected and craftsmen made useful and beautiful objects from the materials of their regions for the same purposes.
Indigenous teachers and elders across North America, as well as Eastern gurus and philosophers across Asia, speak about “right action” and pursuing “right livelihood” as essential to happiness. What exactly do they mean by these terms and what makes some work enriching and good for the soul—and other work torturous and spirit-destroying?
At the core of this question is another. What does working do for people? Artists, craftspeople, scientists and writers learn there are three essential components of creativity: inspiration, implementation and completion. People are happiest when their work engages their minds, hands, intellect and spirit—and when the rhythm of their days includes projects at various stages of the creative process. A dynamic balance is achieved when energy in expended in creating that results in an unimpeded flow of ideas and actions as powerful and rejuvenating as a rushing river.
People thrive on creative work like plants thrive with sun, water and good soil. We need the stimulus of inspiration, the discipline of implementation and the accomplishment of completion to live a life of purposeful fulfillment central to happiness. Our souls need creative, purposeful work as much as our bodies need food, shelter, air and water.
When workers are free to engage in all three elements of creativity, they are happier and more productive. Their work transcends craft and becomes art that can inform, illuminate and enrich the world. But when these three elements are separated and workers are forced to focus on just one part of one of those elements as in factory piecework, work becomes purposeless drudgery. A textile worker in China who sews only one seam on a sleeve thousands of times gets only the pain of repetitive-motion injuries and none of the thrill of creating a whole shirt from just thread, cloth and the energy of her own hands. Workers are forced to endure mind-numbing conditions to maximize profits, which are top priority—far above the well-being of workers or society.
When work is separated from the community and done only in distant sterile factories, workers miss the joys and events of family life. Their families and children miss seeing how purposeful creative work could foster happiness as well as make useful products. In a vicious, never-ending cycle, unhappy workers are encouraged to consume products to strengthen the economy and to fill the empty void in themselves that their meaningless work induces. The manufactured products mass-produced fail to fill the emptiness, so more and more products are bought until closets are full but hearts still yearn for meaning.
For the Green Revolution to make a real difference, it must address the core flaw in the relationship between people and work. Work itself is positive and life-affirming. It is a natural human drive to work to attain happiness. It is possible to revise our view of prosperity to prioritize happiness as a national and international goal like the Bhutanese who produced an intricate model of well-being with the four pillars, the nine domains and the 72 indicators of GNH-Gross National Happiness that satisfy the world economy’s quantifying and measuring requirements.
Many indigenous societies like the Navajo assess the well-being of their communities and nation by measuring the quality of Hozho, harmony and balance, which is attained by right action and creating beauty through arts like spinning and weaving.
In the Western world, prosperity is measured by the GNP (Gross National Product). Profit is pursued no matter the human cost. Workers, natural resources and the environment are exploited, denigrated and exposed to toxins. Many among the corporate elite demean work, but its absence in their lives makes them feel unproductive and unhappy despite their wealth.
Rethinking work and our relationship to things is central to shifting from a consumer/profit-driven economy to a creative eco economy grounded in right action. Re-humanizing work is essential to ensure the green movement isn’t just about switching from one product line to a green product line, which continues to depend on the unhappiness of workers.
To make a positive difference, introduce or re-introduce the practice of making something into your daily life. The most valued art among North American Indian Nations are the handmade regalia, quilts, cradleboards and ceremonial objects handed down through generations. Why not pick up a needle, thread or yarn and make your own heirloom that future generations will cherish? Consider buying or trading more products handmade by artisans and less corporate-made goods. Think about the true cost of items you purchase, to the workers who made them and to the air, water and Earth surrounding the factories where they are made. Remember, meaningful work is essential to well-being and is a human right.
The good news is that in today’s consumer-driven economy, you can vote with your dollar and influence the market. Buying green can extend beyond supporting vendors who use natural, petroleum- and pesticide-free materials, renewable energy and recycling. It can reward those who also nurture their workers’ creativity and happiness. And that is good for everyone.
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