Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The satisfaction and dignity of work

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Friday morning session from the October 1974 Conference.
We're on to October 1974! In this session, Elder Loren C. Dunn gave a great talk on parenting, full of powerful ideas about love and leadership and perseverance, like this one: 
The principle of love can overcome many parental mistakes in the raising of their children. But love should not be confused with lack of conviction.
I bet my Child-Development-expert mother loved this talk when she heard it. It's all good, but the section on work especially got me thinking. Elder Dunn referenced (but didn't specifically cite): 
evidence to support that at least in the United States the problems of stress and tension might be linked to a gradually decreasing average number of hours worked by the labor force. The suggestion is that free time, not work, might be a major cause of stress and tension in individuals.
That in itself is interesting. I don't know how well specific studies have measured this, but it's what I think every time I hear people advocating the idea of a "Universal Basic Income" and talking grandly about all the great and hypothetical things people, freed from the drudgery of earning a living, would then have the leisure to create: the sonnets! The symphonies! The artistic yearnings, now finally unleashed! Sure, it sounds nice, and I guess we've all benefitted from the gradual diminishment of "drudgery" over the years. But even beyond the political arguments, this idea leaves out the essential point that work can be ennobling: a divine characteristic, and a divine gift.

Elder Dunn continues,
Certainly in every home all family members can be given responsibilities that will fall within their ability to accomplish and, at the same time, teach them the satisfaction and dignity of work.
I suppose every parent struggles to require the right balance of work and leisure for their children. In a big family like ours, there really isn't any choice but to have the kids do a lot of work—the household can't function any other way! But getting children to work is, of of course, its own sort of work, and I sometimes feel exhausted with trying to manage it all. It's so easy to want to avoid the whining or complaining or sulking, and just do things myself! I do tell myself that this will be for everyone's good, and it will pay off in good habits and discipline later (and I've already seen many benefits as we go along)—but Elder Dunn's reminder here comes at it from a slightly different angle, emphasizing the satisfaction and dignity that come to all of us, including children, as we work! I sometimes forget about this, but I have seen it, and I know it's real. Giving our children meaningful work is giving them the chance for satisfaction and dignity! When one of my sons completes a difficult task—especially a job that stretched his abilities, but where he can see that the family truly NEEDED him—I can almost see him expanding and blossoming before my eyes. He feels important. He feels capable. He feels needed. And he IS needed! The projects that I tend to put off because I dread them, and I dread making other people do them, are exactly the sorts of things that give us all great satisfaction once we finally dive in!

The kids and I worked for hours in the yard this week, and when the weather turned, I found one of my sons gazing out the window thoughtfully. I asked what he was thinking about, and he said (practically glowing), "I'm just so HAPPY we did all that work out there, and now it can snow!" Honestly, I doubt he had given the yard a second thought this entire year—but now because of his work there, he felt ownership of it in a new and personal way. And I need to remember that this personal growth, this inner satisfaction and the confidence that comes from being useful—whether or not the initial nudge toward that usefulness is greeted with acquiescence and cheer—may be exactly what a reluctant child needs to be drawn out of himself and find joy. This is certainly the case for ME when Heavenly Father requires hard things of me!

And that led me to another thought. In the very next talk of this session, Elder Neal A. Maxwell talked about how good people still need the church:
"…because random, individual goodness is not enough in the fight against evil."
Even though I certainly appreciate random, individual goodness, and I DO believe in the ability of the small, mundane things to truly change the world, I loved the way Elder Maxwell put this. It's not actually a contradiction of the principle that individuals matter. It's a statement about WHY God put individuals together in families, and about why we need organized religion. No matter how hard we work, our work only takes on meaning when it is contributing to something bigger than ourselves. We have to care about others. We have to depend on others.  We can't reach our potential by ourselves, communing with nature or meditating to reach nirvana. We have to willingly join God's work of saving souls, because THAT is the work that brings ultimate dignity and ultimate satisfaction. That is the only work that makes us like God.

Other posts in this series:

1 comment:

  1. Write something else. What are you thinking about these days? I've been reading Eyring and his thoughts on waiting on the Lord. Good stuff.