What’s wrong with the Protestant work ethic?

What is the Protestant Work Ethic, or is it the Puritan Work Ethic (PWE)? In a nutshell, to me, PWE means that you have no value (in society, your family, and to yourself) unless you are productive every day and finish all your work before taking time to play. The problem is that there is never time to play because there is always more work to do.

Right here, right now I am declaring war on PWE and the idea that a fully checked off to-do list at the end of the day is a valid reason to feel virtuous and pleased with myself.

Raised in the country, every day housework came first, then school, then homework, and then the game, which was a book to read or an hour of television before bed. Ah, but there were the weekends you mention. My childhood home had three acres of grass and trees, plus a barn with horses and chickens, all of which needed to be cleaned out one way or another, so Saturday mornings were spent working.

My father euphemistically called Saturday morning chores the “Saturday Olympics,” and the competition was who of the four kids could complete their work first. At the age of 10, he was seriously affected by my father’s PWE modus operandi. Until the tasks were finished, there was no gambling even on weekends.

Now in my 60s, after a lifetime of working and hardly playing, I retired and was faced with what I needed to do to keep this PWE and the self-esteem it gave me going. I’m an artist and a writer, but I can’t “create” 8 hours a day, so what was I going to do with the “free” time I now had? For true PWE types, there is no such thing as time off. If you’re not being “productive,” you’re wasting time—valuable time that could be spent doing something worthwhile for yourself and others. My solution: 9 months after retiring, I moved alone, across the country to a community where I didn’t know anyone, forcing me to “get down to business,” make friends, and get involved.

Now, after four years of uninterrupted volunteer work for my church, a Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship, which runs on the sweat of volunteers committed to good works, and for my community, that is, the downtown revitalization effort, I am exhausted, and neither have I. learned to play what retirement is supposed to be about.

Too much of a good thing eventually becomes a bad thing and that’s where I’m standing right now. Believing in the virtue of the Protestant work ethic has left me burned out, exhausted, and with pain in my left shoulder. In fact, it’s my shoulder that I have to thank for this little essay, because when my body yells at me, I know it’s just a physical manifestation of a non-physical problem that I need to seriously think about. Having spent a lifetime with my “shoulder to the wheel”, it’s time to stop, think and think out loud on paper (electronic paper that is) and figure this out. (Yes, I’m a big believer in the mind-body connection, a topic for future essays, I promise.)

The real culprit is, of course, my deep-seated belief that “work” is Okay and the game is… well, if not exactly bad, certainly frivolous and wasteful. Yes, of course I know all the research on the importance of the game to “recharge” one’s energy tanks to get back to his life’s work, but I never really bought any of it. How could I? The PWE possessed me, inside and out, consciously and, more importantly, unconsciously.

I think it’s one’s beliefs, those deep, mostly unconscious ones, that create our realities, so chanting affirmations of what one wants to have, as promoted in the bestseller, “The Secret,” doesn’t work. if those claims go against one’s core beliefs. My core belief in the virtue of work is not unconscious, but the depth, breadth, and scope of this belief was, until I actually started looking at it, writing about it, and questioning it.

“Why is work such a good thing? Who told you that? Who sold you that list of assets?”

The answer was, of course, my self-evident truth… BECAUSE IT IS. Everyone knows that work is good, that you need to work to get ahead, to earn your rightful place in society. Nobody likes a bum or those freeloaders who live off the sweat of others. Where would we be if our early pioneers and founding fathers hadn’t worked hard?

Of course, I learned my PWE from my parents, namely my father, who was, among other things, a Boy Scout leader and a tireless community volunteer. No wonder then that he made me a social worker.

But, too much of a good thing eventually turns into a bad thing. So how do I undo that belief or at least modify it to allow fun and play to sneak in?

The first thing I had to ask myself was, “What’s the opposite of being an industrious and efficient worker,” because while that was my goal all these years, I must have also been trying to avoid being the opposite… a lazy bum, free cargo loafer. I hate the lazy, freeloading slacker. I hate people who don’t carry their own weight. I hate doing other people’s work for them.

The next question is not for cowards. What’s wrong with being a lazy, freeloading slacker? For those affected by PWE, that’s like asking, what’s wrong with cannibalism?

What’s wrong with laziness and being a freeloader? Are you kidding? What’s not wrong? Bravado, stutter, stutter, choking! Next question?

Once again, what’s so terrible about being a lazy, freeloading slacker? Peel the onion. Keep asking the impossible questions. Keep challenging those self-evident beliefs.

You (I) might also ask things like, who was a freeloading, lazy bum in your life, in your childhood? Whose work did you do for them when everything was wrong? Were you put in an adult role when you were still a child? Who have you spent your whole life trying to avoid being like?

Now, here is the problem. What we hate most in others is what we also hate in ourselves. It is just the other side of the same coin in which our greatest virtue lives. The problem is that we hate to admit that the other side exists, but it does. So if you have enough personal courage to face your dark side, those characteristics you hate most in others, then you must accept that side of yourself, forgive yourself, and then forgive those you’ve been trying not to be like. all your life. . Oh! Forgive the lazy, useless, freeloaders? That is hard.

Now go one step further. Consider if you wouldn’t secretly like to be one of those freeloading, lazy slackers. Oh! This is hard.

Wait…give me a minute…would I like to sometimes be lazy, laze around and let others do my work? Oh, Universe, forgive me but… err, ah, gosh, I… I… would. Lord, have mercy, but it pains me to admit this.

Now we are getting somewhere.

Look again. What’s good about being a hard worker? approval of others? Really? Well, maybe, probably even, but is it worth it? Really worth it? You may have needed those “at-a-girls” and “at-a-boys” when you were growing up, but do you need them now? Really? Wouldn’t you rather have some fun? Wouldn’t you rather be a little lazy? Wouldn’t you rather relax a bit? Oh come on, admit it. Isn’t the idea starting to feel a little good?

Now here’s the real kicker. If you are going to change your modus operandi, you have to do it in small steps, sometimes small. Big steps, quick steps, like the proverbial “hare”, result in swings of the pendulum that take you back to the starting point. When it comes to changing yourself, the tortoise wins the day.

What’s wrong with the Protestant work ethic? Nothing, unless it’s all you know.

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