Questions about the way we tend to unquestionably accept society’s assumptions regarding work trouble me on a regular basis. As I have stated before, I consider the 8 hour working day my biggest enemy [at this stage of life, when health is not yet an issue]. Simply put, I fail to understand why at this, humanity’s most affluent time ever, the majority of us are still working for such a large portion of our lives. Worst, I question why those of us that are no longer able to participate in the work game get treated like scum (pay a visit to an old people’s place near you for a demonstration of what I am talking about; or just pay attention to the way the unemployed or the homeless are being treated by our government).
All these questions were amplified by the ABC’s recent reality TV series Employable Me. The series, in case you’ve missed it, follows a series of people with various neuro-diverse conditions (usually young, usually autistic) as they search for a job and as they keep bumping into solid brick walls while searching for a job.
Although Employable Me suffers from the regular fallacies of reality TV, there are a lot of repeated motifs in the stories it depicts that we should probably pay attention to. For example, one by one our challenged job seekers are telling us how bad their school years have been, and how they were the favourite prey of their schools’ bullies. Why we continue accepting that, and why society fails all autistic people to such a degree as to traumatise them for the rest of their lives (while glossing over the fact) is beyond me.
For now, I would like to focus on the jobs/work side of the equation, rather than the deficiencies of our education system. Basically, I want to ask - why is it so important for these kids to find a job in the first place, especially given all the other problems their lives are forcing them to deal with?
Oh, I hear you say, the answer is very simple. They need money, and the easiest way for a person to make the money they need for a living is to work for it. As in, a person - most persons - writes off a huge chunk of hours from their lives in order to “make a living”.
It’s not just that, though, is it? I do not question the need to have money to live with; that is a much bigger matter than the one I am eluding to here. What I am pointing a finger it is the fact none of us regards work as simply a means to an end, a tool with which we can get a roof above our heads, dinner on our plates, and a smartphone in our pocket. Fact of the matter is, we derive a large part of our identity through the work we do.
I will put it this way: when someone asks you “what do you do?”, you do not answer with an “I’m a sleeper, I sleep 7.5 hours a day”, “I’m a runner, I run 10km three times a week”, or “I’m a reader, I read science fiction books”. Your answer will almost always be a rather flattering description of the paid work you do for a living.
Noticed that expression, “for a living”, as if your life has little meaning on its own without that work that you do? I refuse to take the company line on this one; I am not defined by what I do in order to acquire money. I am many things: I am a parent, I am a person who likes to tinker with computers and gadgets, I am a person who likes spicy food, I am a hummus aficionado, and yes, unlike most of the rest of us I also spend a significant portion of my life engaged in activities I do not necessarily love and would have otherwise preferred to avoid and play the latest video game instead if I could but I can’t.
I bet you are more than your job. I also bet the vast majority of the people of this world, engaged as they are in mundane, boring, and often unhealthy jobs would agree with me on this one.
As a “further reading” point, I would like to add that acquiring our identity from the job we do for money is dangerous in other respects. Take, for example, the good old perception that it is the father of the family that is supposed to be its main bread winner. For better or worst (clearly worst), this is the standard society still goes by; it is for this reason that single mothers are generally treated with utter contempt by the authorities.
Now, consider a male “father” who has lost his job and is thus reliant on the income made by his female partner: Consider the mental harm that failing to live up to the stereotype by which the rest of society judges him can have on that person in addition to the fact he is out of a job and is therefore likely to endure financial hardship