Good Work….


Just reading Schumacher’s Good Work again.  Although the original lectures on which the book was based were first given in the 1970s it seems that we have made little progress in helping people with the challenge of finding good work.

From the Foreword…

At the heart of our system of work lies our system of values, and more precisely, our view of the individual and his relationships with others. By way of illustration, consider one of the current pseudo-intellectual clichés, that work is part of the Protestant ethic and that a more enlightened view of it is (presumably) that the less work you can get away with, the better.

This is a cynical and degraded view of human nature (certainly not subscribed to by any religion that I know of) because it assumes that money is the sole reason for working. Set this view against Schumacher’s opening remarks in this book, in which he identifies three purposes of human  work:

  • to produce necessary and useful goods and services;
  • to enable us to use and perfect our gifts and skills; and
  • to serve, and collaborate with, other people, so as to “liberate ourselves from our inborn egocentricity.”

From the Preface….

A recent article in the London Times began with these words:

“Dante, when composing his visions of hell, might well have included the mindless, repetitive boredom of working on a factory assembly line. It destroys initiative and rots brains, yet millions of British workers are committed to it for most of their lives.”

The remarkable thing is that this statement, like countless similar ones made before it, aroused no interest: there were no hot denials or anguished agreements; no reactions at all. The strong and terrible words “visions of hell,” “destroys initiative and rots brains,” and so on–attracted no reprimand that they were misstatements or overstatements, that they were irresponsible or hysterical exaggerations or subversive propaganda; no, people read them, sighed and nodded, I suppose, and moved on.

Not even  the ecologists,  conservationists,  and doom watchers are interested in this matter. If someone had asserted that certain man-made arrangements destroyed the initiative and rotted the brains of millions of birds or seals or wild animals in the game reserve of Africa, such an assertion would have been either refuted or accepted as a serious challenge. If someone had asserted that not the minds and brains of millions of workers were being rotted but their bodies, again there would have been considerable interest.

After all, there are safety regulations, inspectors, claims for damages, and so forth. No management is unaware of its duty to avoid accidents or physical conditions which impair workers’ health. But workers’ brains, minds, and souls are a different matter.

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