Work as Religion
Over a pitcher of Sangria this past Thursday evening—with my own glass full of water for reason of my religion—one friend in the group that met at Café Iberico smiled knowingly as she told me that I have no concerns about job security as a global and local diversity professional. Nanye. Ninguna. Neniu. Though I wasn’t born an interculturalist, I converted long ago and I’ll die a devoted follower of my religion: Work.
I am not the only one in these so-called post-God, post-history, post-racist United States who has made a religion of my work. We’re generally a busy people who barter our health, time and true talent for a job. And perhaps, like other believers, I hold true to the promise that sacrifice now will be rewarded later. Though in the “hereafter” of my religion, the hearts of humankind are knit together[i].
If we’re going to make a religion of work, let’s make the maximum profit.
Idolizing Work As Next-To-Holy—and Hyper-Sexualized
Even as it consumes us, we increasingly sacrifice ourselves for work. Like many other virtues to which people profess devotion and exploit, the so-called Puritanical work ethic of the 1700’s U.S. that influences our work culture has become simultaneously next-to-holy and hyper-sexualized in contemporary society. Witness this fascinating mix in the following “clean” versions[ii] of today’s popular music that are an ode to work.
In about the span of my lifetime, the ritual of work has gone from sacrilege to sacred. Some examples include the following pop-culture songs of the late 1970s and 1980s[iii].
Just about an equal number of years after the 21st century began as before it ended, our interpretation of the value of work—as reflected in the select sample above—has changed. No longer are we simply the object and work the subject. Work has become the protagonist that drives the plot of our lives, the “hero” of our story.
How to Make Religion of Work
If we’re going to make a religion of work, let’s make the maximum profit. Our professional accountabilities are often to discover efficiencies, assure quality, check and balance toward the “holy grail” of the bottom line. However, we are not reaching our best benefit because we’re missing the meaning of our martyrdom.
What necessarily defines work as a value is the act of creating; the “exertion or effort directed to produce or accomplish something”[iv]. Just as some believe that faith is “the evidence of things not seen[v],” the profit produced by creating through work is not always tangible, but no less real. When we make a true religion of work, we recognize that the profit gained through work is in the process of craft for the benefit of ourselves and others—not in the product itself. In his classic work, The Prophet, by Lebanese writer-poet Khalil Gibran, he preaches work as worship: “…[I]n keeping yourself with labour you are in truth loving life/ And to love life through labour is to be intimate with life’s inmost secret. And what is it to work with love? It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart, even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth. Work is love made visible.” Work is of most value when practiced with values.
By religiously practicing work as craft, creation and love—day in and day out—we can bring a character to our work that we may strive for in ourselves. This is the work in which I endeavor with people—that of personal choice and change—that necessary engages us with ourselves and with others. My job is to help people find motive and ownership in a brand of work ethic that is self-perpetuating in its benefit to the whole. It’s toward this practice of cultivation over consumption—day in and day out—that I partner with clients toward a multicultural mecca of sorts in which they own and do the work.
As a reflective practitioner of whatever your profession, how might making a fundamental belief of work in its true essence change how you engage between the people, places and purpose with which you work?
[i] Reference to Baha’i scripture, which reads: “…Strive ye to knit together the hearts of men, in His Name, the Unifier, the All-Knowing, the All-Wise.”
[ii] Explicit versions of each song—with the exception of "Stressed Out"—more graphically demonstrate the point being made in this paragraph.
[iii] No “clean” and “explicit” versions of these songs are available online.
[iv] Source: Dictionary.com.
[v] In the King James version of the Bible, Hebrews 1:11 reads, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
people. place. purpose.