By the sweat of thy brow…

As you may know, I’m a lawyer, and draft contracts and other arrangements for a living.  Another way of looking at this is to say that I’m a bottom-feeder, and my job would not exist if people were honest with each other.  Either way, lawyers spin no cloth and till no fields.  My work, as with most modern office work, is heavily decontextualized, and I find myself far removed from any actual product or fruit of labor.  This didn’t bother me very much — when I was younger my office jobs and grunt-work were frequently detached from the real world.  This is a complaint of most modern office workers.  But lately, I’ve been working long hours, slaving over documents that few people will ever read, and otherwise questioning my chosen profession.  A part of this questioning has involved thoughts about being closer to people, working in a more hands-on way, and creating a more direct link between my efforts and an end product in the hands of the public.  This may not be possible for a lawyer, or for anyone else raised and trapped in an “Office Space” world.  I find myself wistfully thinking of becoming a tradesperson, such as a plumber or contractor, if only to witness the work of my own hands (this is, of course, total delusion — I have no skills for working with my hands and my home improvements thus far have been met with limited success).

Is this a typically Mormon thought process, or an American one, for that matter?  I’m tempted to trace this kind of thinking back to puritan ethics and agrarian work culture, both of which are a part of LDS traditions.   Lesson manuals are filled with missives about “The Value of Work” and how noble it is to truly earn your money (pay close attention, investment bankers and arbitrageurs!).  These discussions seem inescapably tied to notions of a day’s work for a day’s pay and other concepts of work that somehow fall short of describing most modern professions.  As a result of this (perceived?) inadequacy I’d like to try and establish a framework for evaluating work in God’s Plan to see if there are any rules or notions we can isolate as cultural relics, while identifying those divine gems that remain.  Not an easy task, but here are some initial thoughts:

  • Work is meant to be difficult.  That is, we shouldn’t get something from nothing.  The lot of the idler in scripture is fairly grim.

  • We are meant to work in order to get by.  The concept of an idle aristocracy or of people taking jobs as a mere diversion is repugnant, as a violation of the principle that life is to be about survival and progression, not comfort and stagnancy.

  • Our jobs really do matter.  I used to fall into the camp that asserts that within a certain range (i.e., legal) of activity, God doesn’t care what we do to earn our money.  I now believe this to be false — or rather that the boundary of the defined range isn’t legality, but morality, as evaluated within the larger context of the purpose of work.  p.s. I should also point out, on a slightly unrelated matter,  that my wife Sumer thinks it’s OK that Marriott hotels sell in-room pr0n and alcohol, and if she owned a convenience store would have no problem in selling such things herself.  I just wanted to get that out there.

I’m not sure where that leaves me, or what these ideas say about working in the modern world.  Even worse, these principles lead me to perform value judgments on professions in ways I’m not comfortable with (i.e., most modern office jobs are bad for us).  I also find myself unable to come to conclusions about the separation between workers and end-products (which seems to be the essence of work in modern society).  Is there something I’m missing here?  Let me know where I need to go from here, and I’ll continue in future posts.

Comments

  1. “I CHOOSE to see value”

    Sumer, I think the choice aspect is very, very important in the overall picture, because clearly we’re not going to be able to objectively determine the value of a given profession. But how far can you stretch the role of choice — should the guy who designs the fax covers for the new TPS reports really rationalize his job to that extent? In other words, when can we say that a job sucks?

    John, there’s a reason the beehive is the symbol of Utah, and it has to do not just with levels of production but of worker dynamics. I’d agree that our church deals more with being a good worker than with being a good boss or industrialist. I’d always chaulked that up to being a reflection of our LDS emphasis on personal responsibility, but do you think it’s something more?

  2. “I’d always chaulked that up to being a reflection of our LDS emphasis on personal responsibility, but do you think it’s something more?”

    Steve: I actually do think it’s more than just personal responsibility. Yet again, I find I have a hard time defining and putting into words exactly what I think. I do believe the Church teaches morality and ethics when it comes to business, and I believe Church members believe in that. And yet, I sense a bit of compartmentalization going on – we value success so much (and we reward – try looking at who is called as General Authorities and Mission presidents) that I think the line between ethical and unethical in business dealings has become somewhat blurred in some cases.

    I do know that an attorney for the Utah Attorney General’s office spoke to some at Sunstone, and he was adamant that the Church should adopt a policy that states Church leaders (Bishops and Stake Presidents) should not be involved with members of their congregations in any kind of business dealing. He didn’t want to give a paper at the symposium, but he is shocked at how many members give up their life savings to Church leaders because they trust them. Some, but not most of these leaders are involved in fraud. The majority, however, simply get in over their heads and lose people’s money. It’s then that the line between moral and immoral starts to get blurry. He at least considers it a very serious problem.

  3. “satisfaction itself requires a relationship with the end”

    That is a terrific notion, Christina. Is that why Church leaders like to say that our greatest work is in the home?

    Further along that vein, by saying this and things like it, are our leaders acknowledging that work ain’t what it used to be, and will never provide real fulfillment?

  4. Greg Call says:

    A bit of practical advice for unfulfilled NYC lawyers: call up Appellate Advocates or Legal Aid and tell them you’d like to draft some applications for leave to appeal to the NY Court of Appeals. There’s no shortage, and no previous criminal law experience is really necessary. It’s interesting, challenging work, and if your application is good enough, you could get a trip to oral argument in Albany out of it!

  5. Agreed, Marx is all you’re talking about here, Steve. So, I felt a lot like you did as a lawyer at a big firm, but now that I have switched to a small office (in a big firm) I’m much happier. Partly it’s the increased human interaction, partly it’s the fact that the type of work I get to do here is on a higher level than the work I was doing in the big place (and these are the same cases). But is it enough? I think that whatever you do for a living, it is always work. Even if the ends of your work are more valuable than what corporate lawyers do, work for NOW is still the same type of work, but for a better purpose, and, having worked on projects like that here and there, I don’t actually find them any more satisying. So, I’m beginning to feel like any work –like lawyering– that is removed from the end product will never satisfy because satisfaction itself requires a relationship with the end.

    I like coloring and baking cakes. Perhaps that will lead me to true happiness.

  6. Although in all seriousness, the article by Elder Jensen is really pretty good, if devoid of the specifics I’d like to see (i.e., “Steve, do not be a lawyer.”)

  7. And how does the curse on Adam affect women who have chosen to – or must – work as the breadwinner in their families? Do we share Adam’s curse, or is it even worse since we have upset the so-called natural order by taken on “Adam’s role”? Or, alternatively, are women who take the role of breadwinner not cursed as Adam, because we have chosen to go beyond the natural man. That is, if you read the creation myth as being that Eve and Adam were in Paradise and then only when ejected cursed with these roles, then rejecting or subverting the roles could be a return to a paradisiacal order.

  8. Anon., there’s a big problem in confusing the value of a profession with the money it provides. I’m sure you’re aware of that. For purposes of this discussion money is taken somewhat out of consideration.

  9. D. Fletcher says:

    Because I was gay, I never married. Because I was LDS, I didn’t pursue gay relationships either. So, I have no home “work” other than feeding myself.

    And my work “work” is so tedious, and so, impossibly capitalistic, that it seems appropriate to let someone else do it. I wish I could find value in it other than what it affords me to buy (i.e., plasma televisions).

    There is something to be said for churchwork, in its value without remuneration. I served the Church well, all my adult life, by providing my talents for free. Now, sadly, that too has ended.

    What next? I may try to find work as a teacher, perhaps music.

  10. Christina,

    It seems that many in the world are rejecting the roles of working for their bread and bearing children. By that I don’t mean to make a statement about the roles of men and women. I make it about people and parents in general. I would invite you to any ward welfare meeting and you’ll see what sloth and a rejection of the responsibilities of parenthood has brought. From what I have seen it is often yet another step away from paradise rather than some way of returning to it through rejection of what you call a “curse”.

  11. Christina,

    The analysis I was trying to perform doesn’t get any more simple when you factor in gender differences and the male-centric church we live in. For women, the church has already suggested that only one task has supreme value: motherhood. But that declaration, which could be viewed as a reassuring way of outlining the highest ideals of life, is instead a way of making the whole analysis of work even more complicated.

    It’s clear that Adam’s curse is also Eve’s (although apparently Eve received some additional burden as a result of the Fall). But I don’t see how exclusivity or gender roles in breadwinning is inherently related to the Fall itself, like you seem to imply.

  12. Cristina, how are you doing? You might (or might not) remember me (or my wife, Suzanne Hawkins) from your undergrad days. She is in the last year of her residency while I work for a very large company, but work from home about 90% of the time. We have a 10 month old son who is in many ways the center of our lives. It is interesting how being a parent can change attitudes. Suzanne is now quite jealous of the amount of time I get to spend with our son and can’t wait to find a part time job as a doctor in order to have more time at home. Evenings and weekends just won’t cut it.

    While I enjoy my professional work it pales in importance to what I do at home. I don’t know that the “greatest work is in the home” line is meant to box women in but to focus men and women on what is important. A careful reading of proclamation on the family will see that it references responsibilities rather than roles. Maybe this is a distinction without a difference or perhaps I am reading it in a way that wasn’t intended, but it seems to me to indicate that we are both responsible for making sure certain things get done, not that we each have to do certain things.

  13. D. you’re scaring me with how precisely you’re echoing my thoughts on this topic.

  14. D:

    I can not believe with your musical talent that you’ve been in a graphics studio comping up financial collateral! I learned early on that the only way to proof that stuff is to sit with a partner and read each word backwords. If you read it in complete sentences, sleep is inevitable.

    If you end up teaching piano lessons, I’d be your first student. Of course I’d have to buy an electronic keyboard for my studio apt.

    Peggy

    p.s. I find honor in making a living for myself — even if it is in the one profession that bottom-feeds, and has less social respect than law — in advertising.

    p.p.s. Steve, this is the most pontificating I can do on the Sabbath.

  15. Davis,
    I checked with an EVIL browser and to my surprise the page is not widened in it. In my non-evil browser the page is as wide as the URL when displayed on a single line.

  16. Davis, is this part of an effort to googlebomb Marlin Jensen in order to get him into the Twelve? I can see right through you…

  17. Davis, your page-widening post has made this thread impossible to read! May I suggest http://tinyurl.com for the next time you have a url to post that is three times the width of your screen? They have a utility that will make the url tiny, as the name implies.

  18. doctors and teachers are definitely on the tradesperson side of the spectrum. Besides the medicine man and the teacher, there are few more honored spots in the tribe.

  19. Good luck D with the decision you are making. It’s a brave step to take. It sounds like you have some security saved up, which is great.

    I’ve always been intrigued by the fact that Genesis describes that working by the sweat of the brow is a curse on Adam for his transgression — but at the same time we see work as a blessing and a commandment.

    Some of the greatest satisfaction I’ve gotten from work is manual work — such as mowing the lawn, weeding a garden, that sort of thing. There’s some kind of value to actually sweating a little bit, getting your knees and hands grubby, and feeling the satisfaction that comes from a job well done afterwards. I used to think that some of my best thoughts/ideas would come to me while perfoming mundane tasks like mowing the lawn or whatever. I sometimes get a similar feeling from cleaning up the house and doing the dishes as well.

  20. Great post Steve and I will post more later. A few initial thoughts, the products of at least some of my labor are incredibly removed from “real stuff”–doing CDO CDO’s means that you have to go down at least two levels before you find tangible assets–add to that the fact that much of the collateral is synthetic securities and it gets really weird. On the other hand, I’m beginning to think that it IS important work. Those of you who know me personally will probably be surprised to hear this since I’m usually just complaining about poring over boring, 300 page documents–but doesn’t the fact that you are freeing up capital otherwise locked up in balance sheets so that banks can lend more money to homeowners and businesses count for something. I think that at the root of most of what office workers do, there is something useful happening–the dissatisfaction comes not from the work, but from not understanding one’s role in the process.

  21. Melissa says:

    Greg Call – Don’t know if anyone’s still paying attention to this line, but here goes – what a blatant plug for our mutual alma mater! And shame on you for not warning Steve of the nasty pitfalls of finality in a motion for leave to appeal….

    Steve – If you succumb to Greg’s enticements let me know, I took great crib notes when on the inside! ;-)

  22. How would you measure it then?

    p.s. forgot to type in my name on the last one

  23. I guess, by the Adam analogy, women who work for support AND have children are doubly-cursed. I dunno. I hadn’t thought out that much ahead. :)

    I just grin whenever someone gives a talk about work and says how wonderful work is, how great a virtue it is to work hard (in whatever capacity). The reason I grin is because I’m thinking of the verse that says work is God’s punishment for the transgression. That’s all.

    But hey, my wife’s in medical school. She wants to be a professional and I’m supporting her in that. So hopefully I’m not losing any feminist points for my random comments. :)

  24. I just read a great talk by Marlin Jensen that addresses this very topic. Money quote:

    I realize that work can be mental, spiritual, or physical effort, but Nephi’s emphasis is on “laboring with our hands,” or manual labor. No matter what our life’s work turns out to be, I know we’ll be happier if we regularly labor with our hands. Labor can take many forms: yard work, sewing, quilting, cooking, baking, auto repair, home repair—the list is endless, and so is the happiness and sense of accomplishment such activities produce.

    http://library.lds.org/nxt/gateway.dll?f=templates$fn=default.htm$xhitlist_q=“manner%20of%20happiness”$xhitlist_x=Simple$xhitlist_s=relevance-weight$xhitlist_d=Magazines/ensign$xhitlist_hc=%5BXML%5D%5Bkwic%2C0%5D$xhitlist_xsl=xhitlist.xsl$xhitlist_vpc=first$xhitlist_sel=title%3Bpath%3Bcontent-type%3Bhome-title%3Bhit-context%3Bfield%3Azr%3Bfield%3ARef

  25. I may do just that… I confess I’ve been thinking about it.

  26. I think there are different kinds of fulfillment we need to parse out. There is the satisfaction of a hard day’s work, no matter what the end product is or our relationship to it. Then, separately, some people get to have the satisfaction of knowing (believing?) that their work has meaning to the world. Ideally, we have both, but I think that is extremely hard to achieve, perhaps unattainable until we all have enough money to retire from the job of making money and can go be elderly couples missionaries.

    I’m not yet cynical enough to think that there is no way to achieve both kinds of satisfaction through our paying work, but it takes a lot to get there.

    I don’t know about that “greatest work in the home” line. I happen to think that has a lot more to do with trying to box women in than an attempt to support families. Whoops, there’s that cynicism!

  27. I’ve been done with college for about 3 years, and I’ve had two jobs in that time, both in international development. My first was much more front-line, i.e. working in the field directly with the project beneficiaries; the second was with the US government, and was principally office work. I’m fairly certain I helped many more people in the second than I did the first; however, I felt much, much more satsifaction in the first. I agree with Christina, “satisfaction itself requires a relationship with the end.” The more direct that relationship, the greater the satisfaction.

    However, there’s also a part of me that also believes that work is work is work, regardless of the end, and carries with it a certain sense of alienation (the possible exception to this being those who work for themselves).

  28. Anonymous says:

    If everyone thought like Steve and acted like D., our society would be much less wealthy than it currently is (of course, if noone thought like Steve and acted like D. that would be a scary situation). I think Mathew has it right. The value in office jobs may be more abstract but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. It in fact can be much greater (at least in $ terms) than the value of the “fruit-of-your-labor”-type jobs to which Steve refers. Which is of course why office jobs tend to pay better.

  29. Isn’t it kind of strange how the only time that Sumer shows up and comments on the blog is when she is giving Steve — err, Stephen — a piece of her mind?

    Any time I see a comment beginning “Stephen,” I know the fireworks are about to start.

  30. John,
    Good to hear from you – where are you two living? Husband Manahi (not from Stanford, but we met in the singles ward there) and I are in NY, he a filmmaker, I another attorney.

    I don’t really mean that our most important work ISN’T at home, rather what irsks me is that the comment tends to be aimed from male church leadership at women, which is what I resent, not the sentiment itself. I know that parenting is much more fulfilling to most people than any other thing they do in life, and that is wonderful. Let’s just not forget that people (even women) contribute to society in countless ways, not just through parenting.

    As for the proclamation on the family, I’ve given up on it for my own life, it just doesn’t fit my own deeper sense of how I should conduct myself, but I appreciate that it can work to remind people of how important family is.

  31. John, you’re right — the earth was cursed, “for your sake”. I’ve often wondered what that meant. Does it mean that the earth was cursed to help us? Or is the earth a reflection of our own natures, as in the Elizabethan Great Chain of Being? Either way the harsh conditions of existence and the necessity of work are tied to Adam and Eve and their decisions to transgress.

    You seem to be in favor of some kind of acceptance of life as tough and as a test, which is very Mormon of you. This is kind of dangerous, however, because it can lead us to “work for work’s sake,” which is a messed-up way of thinking IMHO.

    Christina, what’s wrong with considering the pains of breadwinning and child-bearing to be curses resulting from the Fall? That’s pretty consistent with scripture IMHO — the only point where I might differ from that portrayal is to say that Adam’s Fall created some positive effects, and winning bread and having babies could be considered positive.

  32. Kristine, are you suggesting a return to the golden mean?

    How about this theory: all work is corrosive toil. The variety and imagination involved may make some tasks temporarily more attractive, but it can’t last forever.

  33. LOL!

    You could be right, but only the harshest of cynics would think that way…..

  34. Nate, I know exactly what you’re talking about. I was avoiding direct reference to Marx (since I know he’s not the most appreciated author in Mormondom), but it’s been a hot-button issue since the Industrial Revolution.

  35. Of course, any sin that attaches to Sumer for approving of selling alcohol will surely be outweighed by the amount of goodwill she has built up in Heaven for putting up with Steve.

    :)

  36. ooops! Made a mistake in the last post. Correct order is:

    1-curse upon serpent (while addressing the serpent)
    2-power over the serpent comes from Eve’s seed (still addressing the serpent)
    3-consequences for Eve (while addressing her)
    4-curse upon the ground (while addressing Adam)
    5-consequences for Adam (while addressing him)

    Sorry!

  37. Peggy, as always I appreciate your efforts to intellectualize the mundane…

    Lyle, I’ve read some articles by Unger but couldn’t stomach him. He seemed completely full of himself.

    A follow-up question to my prior post: what jobs (within the law) would you not do, no matter the money??

  38. Hellmut Lotz says:

    Remember, money is merely a symbol.
    I agree with Rick that our society would be a lot poorer without the division of labor. But I am not sure that work needs to be boring in order to be productive. On the other hand, they call it “work” not fun for a reason. But Steve and D. were not complaining that work was hard but that it is meaningless.
    Standard micro-economic theory would postulate that D.’s decision actually enhances welfare. D. reaps the benefits and bears the cost of his employment and determined that he was benefitting less than he spend. Accordingly, he left the unprofitable employment. Insofar as he is happier now, society is better off.
    If more people acted like D. then there would be less alienating workplaces. Because people like him provide employers with an incentive to organize work better.

  39. Rick,

    I think Steve prefers fat cat to big shot.

    Why shouldn’t the presence of other variables discount the monetary variable? Isn’t that exactly what happens when you come unlike things and make a judgment about them–the value of one is judged, and possibly discounted, against the perceived value of the other?

    On the other hand, I think that we (modern Americans) tend to have really strange views about money–as I’ve said before, our problem is not that we think about money too much, but rather that we think about it too little. What I mean is that we don’t consider the reasons why we want money and don’t have the courage to break out of a system that doesn’t address the question of what money is good for, but rather promotes the idea that more must be better without asking why. I read Steve to be asking why we are working–and he isn’t doing it in a mid-life crises sort of way (he has at least two or three years before that sets in) but in a way that wants to explore what we should be getting from what the gospel/church teaches us.

    In my lifetime I actually think the church has been remarkably silent on these points–at least until recently. But since money and work are two of the most consuming questions in my life, I’m glad to hear what people think. BTW–I agree w/ much of what you have written and hope you have more thoughts.

    Mathew

  40. Rick, “value” is going to be a complicated formulation, and with it we’re entering into the subjective area of choice like Sumer mentioned earlier. Clearly, money/wages need to figure into the equation, although I would argue that there are some professions so noble that they could be worthy even if unpaid. Schoolteachers come to mind, if only because they are already so underpaid but so essential. Conversely, there are some professions so awful that no amount of money can instill them with value. Some say lawyers fall into that bracket, but I think we’re talking more about professions on the boundaries of legality and ethics (for some, this means abortionists, pornographers and others).

    But once we explore past the friction point of money as appropriate wages for labor performed, the profession needs to find its value in other intangibles: impact on future generations, capacity to make life easier or happier for others, etc. The list of what makes a job valuable could be extensive.

    You’re entirely correct, btw, to point out that if everybody thought like me or acted like D., our society would be a lot less wealthy. I guess I am arguing that beyond a certain minimal threshold, wealth is irrelevant. That’s easy for a fat cat bourgeois lawyer to say, but I think that’s an idea in harmony with scripture.

  41. Sorry for the long URL. I didn’t notice how long and ungainly it was when posting it. My bad (although I’m not sure why it made it impossible to read).

    Steve, I’m an open book. On being a lawyer — I come from a family of lawyers, know many others, and I just don’t know many (any?) who really enjoy their jobs (granted, many people don’t enjoy their jobs, but there seems to be a particularly large percentage of lawyers who don’t). I have some theories as to why this may be, and hope I’m right, since I still feel a bit inferior for not having become one. (And who knows, maybe you’re one of the few who does enjoy it).

    The thing I liked most about E. Jensen’s talk was his opening admission about not always being happy. I find it heartening when people in positions of authority and respect admit their difficulties and foibles.

  42. Sumer Thurston-Evans says:

    Stephen- I’m disappointed that you don’t know what I do for a living.

    I work for a company which contracts with state Medicaid (Medicaid- low income, Medicare- elderly) agencies to maximize recoveries from commercial insurance carriers. (cases where Aetna should have paid a claim, but it was sent to Medicaid instead). My big project right now is finding health insurance for deadbeat dads so the state can forcibly enroll their children on the dad’s policy.

    It’s not like I ever see these kids, find out if they were actually enrolled, or even know if my deliverables headed straight for the trash can. My actual activities involve manipulating large datasets and pushing numbers around – all day. I would argue that I am just as detached from the work product as Stephen, but have a different attitude about it. I CHOOSE to see value in my efforts.

  43. Steve E., I’m not advocating work for the sake of work. I am trying to express that the consequences of the Fall are for our eventual benefit. I think that we should be “anxiously engaged in a good cause”. I have seen the consequences when people on both ends of the economic spectrum avoid work (and by this I don’t simply mean employment) and disregard their children. I do think of life as a test, and attempting to avoid the test isn’t going to work as some sort of tricky way of passing it.

    Also, one of us has misunderstood what Christina said. I read what she said initially as saying that Adam and Eve were themselves cursed. I drew the distinction that they were not cursed, so perhaps your question about curses should be directed at me. My point is that the scriptures do not say that we are cursed. The serpent was cursed and the earth was cursed, which is pretty tough on the earth when you consider that it wasn’t the earth’s fault that this happened. :) Having to earn one’s bread is a result of the curse on the earth. It isn’t clear to me that the physical pain associated with childbirth is a result of the curse upon the earth. In the scriptures it seems to be tied to the curse upon the serpent . The order in Moses is:
    1-curse upon serpent (while addressing the serpent)
    2-consequences for Eve (while addressing her)
    3-power over the serpent comes from Eve’s seed
    4-curse upon the ground (while addressing Adam)
    5-consequences for Adam (while addressing him)

    It is very clear that the curse upon the ground results in the need to work. It also seems that the ground has nothing to do with childrearing. However I don’t see as clear a link between 1 and 2 as I do between 4 and 5. Exploring this further would take more time (and probably intellect) than I have right now. I am also sure that people much smarter than I have covered this topic.

    I’ll now veer off-topic again:

    If you are reading it as a myth you could say that a patriarchal society created this myth in order to demonstrate bad things happening when women make decisions without their husbands, and that the myth is a tool used to oppress women.

    My father-in-law (who studies marriage and family relations as an anthropologist) has expressed to me the idea that the one of the lessons from the story of Adam and Eve is that spouses should discuss big decisions with each other in detail before taking actions with large consequences. While I am not sure that any amount of discussion would have resulted in a different conclusion in this situation, it is still illustrative.

  44. Steve,
    I’m a pretty worthless commenter, because I don’t enter your world for another two months, but as I’ve tried to figure out what contribution a transactional attorney makes to the world, I’ve had the same questions as you.

    Question: what side of the decontextualized/tradesperson spectrum would you put doctor/dentist or teacher? Where would you find the split between spinning cloth and just wearing it?

    And on the work-in-the-home thing: Caitlin Flanagain, who writes periodically for The Atlantic Monthly, has been exploring this theme for at least the last year and a half in articles. She says in one (and I’m going to mangle this) that, in response to comments about the tediousness of being a stay-at-home mom that she’s done SAH, she’s done professor, and she’s done lawyer, and by far lawyer is the most tedious.

    Me? I’d like to be a chef at a major restaurant (whether or not it serves alcohol).

  45. Steve: I would suggest a couple of chapters by a Critical Legal Theory (sort of) guy named Unger at Harvard.

    While it is just repackaging, he insightfully goes into three types of work:

    1. instrumental: work is the means to the desired ends. ergo, who cares what the work is, how long, or what it produces…as long as it produces the ends you want (big home, debt free, etc.)

    2. calling: Weber’s idea basically, for the existentialist resisting modern man. some folks choose jobs because they feel a “calling” or have a “talent” for a specific type of job. Those that take up “dad” or “moms” job also fall into this category.

    3. transformative. This is the synthesis category, where the means/end dichotomy is dissed; although the “end” of transforming society, or yourself, or the life of another…is the main goal; while the ‘means,’…does matter because doing an ‘instrumental’ job for ‘transformative’ ends deadens the spirit.
    ——————————–
    Hence: my choice. i choose a type of law (class actions) that brings about social change. i also choose to focus on human rights work, so that I can feel good about myself when I go to sleep & wake up in the morning. I am transforming the world…one corrupt company and/or government at a time, using the only language that such employ these days: Money (i.e. they live in an instrumental/”realist” world, while I’m fighting them in a transformative/social creation world).

  46. Steve: I was trading notes in law school with a friend of mine who had just spent his 2L summer in a big Boston law firm. He said, “I understand for the first time what Marx meant when he talked about feeling alienated from the product of one’s labor.”

  47. Sumer works at a health services company that is a medicare billing go-between. She is a project manager, which involves computers and complicated analysis. In my mind I like to think that her job is something like the movie Tron, but it’s probably more like the TV series Automan.

  48. The curse was placed upon the serpent and upon the ground, not upon Adam and Eve.

    If I wanted to go off the deep end I could say that our move away from an agricultural society is an attempt to avoid the consequences of the Fall and that epidurals fall under the same category. But I don’t think that the consequences of the Fall are that narrowly defined and I am not sure that we are supposed to be trying to escape or subvert it. We already know what the way to salvation is and it doesn’t involve trying to escape the Fall’s consequences in this life.

  49. D. Fletcher says:

    The nature of work has changed so drastically from the expulsion from the Garden of Eden that I think it might actually be the cause of depression and other mental illness. Work was meant originally as a means to mortal survival, and right up until the 20th century, most people’s work meant the difference between life and starvation/death. People worked so hard that they didn’t have time to worry about… worrying. Even in times of terrible hardship, the death of newborn children, for example, they would bury the children and move on.

    I can certainly understand work as a means of survival. The pioneers of all history, the Puritans and the Mongols walking over Alaska to this continent, and our own LDS pioneer ancestors, were seeking survival, and understood the nature of work they would be doing (building shelter and hunting or planting food).

    And something like the job Sumer does, though mired in technology, still sees the end of survival, in this case, the children of deadbeat dads.

    But in my case, the work I have been doing seems to be capitalist in the worst way, both for me and for those who receive my own designed credit-card applications in the mail, and the companies who profit from enslaving people to credit cards. I’m a bit of a whore for doing this work, and it makes it that much worse that I’m paid extremely well to do it.

    But I recognize that I’m an exception, being single. If my continued perseverance in my job meant my children’s survival, I would certainly value it more.

  50. D. Fletcher says:

    There wasn’t a lot of analysis that went into my decision.

    I knew that if I tried to get another job first (before quitting), I would never make the change, because I have too much seniority here, and my salary is too high.

    So, I had to just quit, and then decide what to do.

    One little factor that helped: I’ve made a lot of money on my co-op apartment. So if I need to sell it, I could live for a long time on the profits (if I move somewhere cheap, like Sandy, UT).

    P.S. What does Sumer do?

  51. Kristine says:

    There’s a line from an old Mormon hymn that I love. It’s talking about the Milennium, and says “A perfect harvest then will crown the renovated soil, and rich abundance drop around without corroding toil.”

    I’ve been wondering where the line is between productive and satisfying work and “corroding toil.” I don’t have any answers yet, but it seems like that might be the question to ask. Some manual labor, some work with children, some intellectual work is satisfying and productive, but too much of any of them becomes corroding. Where’s the line? Is it the same in all fields? For every person? Is it just a matter of how many hours we work, or is it the nature of the tasks, too, that makes work corrosive after a while?

  52. Chad too says:

    This could be just me, but I always interpreted “cursed for thy sake” to mean something along the lines of “problematic from your point of view.”

    I also often wonder as I read Moses 4 if Adam and Eve are getting chewed out or simply informed of how things are going to be now that they’ve eaten the fruit and fallen. Is it “You ate the fruit so here is your punishment,” or “you ate the fruit and here are the complications you’ll face being in a mortal state.”

    I’m going to the temple this weekend; I’m going to really ponder that as I serve.

  53. This is the first instance I have ever come across where somebody recommends reading Unger, and for practical advice, no less.

    I had a class with him, Steve, where I was supposed to read two of his books. I couldn’t get through a chapter.

  54. Uh-oh Steve, now you’ve got me worried that you’re going to run away to some hippie commune. How would you run a blog from there?

    Just to be clear. When I talk about the $ value of a profession, I am not merely talking about the compensation received by the professional but the $ benefits reaped by others as well (the CDO scenario provided by Mathew for example – this is creating wealth for someone, somewhere). I think this falls into your criterion of making life easier or happier for others.

    Of course there are other variables that can make a job valuable that are less easy to measure – providing service to people for example – but the presence of these other variables should not discount the $ variable.

    It sounds to me like you got a big-shot education followed by a big-shot job and you fancied yourself a world-beater. Now you’re drafting documents that noone will ever read and are a little startled by how irrelevant it all seems. There are some 6 billion people in the world. Very few of them make a difference to a measurable proportion of the rest of them. And I don’t think that matters. I don’t think judgment day is going to involve a review of your score on God’s “career valuation model”.

    If you don’t like your job, then maybe you should find a new one. But if you think you should change careers just because you’re not currently shoveling massive quantities of goodwill over the inhabitants of the world, I think you’ll be disappointed in whatever you do.

  55. D. Fletcher says:

    Very interesting post, Steve.

    I have felt precisely the same way, and so I have given up my job. I have been the manager of a design studio that makes printed collateral material and direct-mail pieces for Citibank. It is… mind-numbing, and surprisingly lucrative work.

    My last day is today.

    I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I keep telling my family that I need to do something valuable.

    I will post more later, but I wanted you to know that we are more alike than ever.

  56. When I say curse, I am only echoing the words of God when he banished Adam and Eve from the garden. I don’t mean that parenting and work are in fact curses.

  57. Wow, D! Big, big news. A part of me is of course envious, and I’m excited to see what your next step will be. What was the analysis you went through to make the jump into the unknown? Do you think your analysis would change depending upon significant others, children, etc.?

    Kaimi, Sumer could sell children to work in diamond mines (Temple of Doom-style), and still go to the Celestial Kingdom. She really is incredible. But she likes and enjoys her job, which I find incomprehensible. What am I missing??

  58. Wow, fascinating post, Steve. I’m intrigued at so many ideas, but particularly your ideas about Church teachings about work (and where those teachings might stem from).

    So, I’ll do what I do best and annoy the attorneys on the blog by citing anecdotes that don’t really prove anything to back up my ideas :)

    I think work for the sake of work tends to be valued a great deal in the Church. As you pointed out, idleness is pretty much condemned in the scriptures, but also in the Church. We reward those who work hard – ironically, often with Church callings since we know they’ll get the job done. Leisure tends to be frowned upon, though not explicitly. The Mormons I know don’t spend too many Saturday’s playing around or watching TV. They work in their yard, spend countless hours at Home Depot, etc. Vacations sitting on beaches sipping virgin margeritas aren’t as common as vacations with hectic sight-seeing schedules.

    I’ve found little discussion among Church members about work as a valuable way to contribute to society. It’s generally about providing for one’s family, or again, working for the sake of work. There’s little, if any, discussion about honest employers paying a fair wage, but many discussions about being an honest employee. In the Utah church, the conservative politics of many members help support policies that make it very difficult for lower-class wage earners to spend much time with their family, fulfill Church callings, or even attend Church, as they are forced to take multiple jobs and work weekends, holidays, and Sundays.

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