"So What Is It That You Do?"
“So, what is it that you do?”
How many times have we all been asked that question?
And how do we respond?
“I’m a programmer for ABComputing” or, “I’m a clerk at bigboxmart,” or, “I’m a . . . [fill in the blank].”
In neo-classical economic theory, we are referred to as “human capital,” and “factors of production.” (I saw further evidence of this dehumanizing language while doing a stint in Dilbertland. My co-workers and I were referred to as “resources” - not even “human resources,” but simply “resources”).
Is that how we define ourselves? With a job title? A functionary in the workplace?
I did not grow up dreaming about spending my life “thinking outside the box, drinking from the fire hose, brain dumping, circling back, win-winning, getting on the same page, taking it offline, defining skill sets and leveraging our core competencies . . . blah, blah, blah.”
Where is the humanity?
Today, while watching a foot of new snow fall outside my window, I read “The Ecology of Work,” written by Curtis White for Orion Magazine. In it, the author writes, “We all have our place, our “job,” and it is an ever less human place. We are diligent, disciplined, and responsible, but because of these virtues we are also thoughtless.”
Mr. White does not go so far as to offer a comprehensive prescription for change, but he does suggest, “We need to insist on work that is not destructive, that deepens the worker, that encourages her creativity. Such a transformation requires a willingness to take a collective risk, a kind of risk very different from capitalist risk taking. The kind of risk I’m suggesting is no small matter. It means leaving a culture based on the idea of success as the accumulation of wealth-as-money. In its place we need a culture that understands success as life.”
What does that look like? I’m not sure. I suppose I’ll just keep looking.
After reading the article, I took a walk along my Lake Champlain backyard with Marion. We watched as the next wave of the storm poured down the Adirondacks and moved across the lake to where we stood. It’ll be a few more months before these waters warm again.
We turned and walked back up the path to Gypsy Rose and put the bread in the oven. I called my parents to see how they were faring through the storm. When the weather clears tomorrow, I’ll begin installing the new chimney and finally getting a fire burning in the wood stove. Maybe I’ll take a sled run down Mount Philo. I’ll continue the planning for my 2008 sea kayaking, rowing and sailing programs.
Come spring, I’ll anxiously await more of what I “do.” Just don’t ask me to sum it up in one concise phrase.