Meaningful Work: Changing People's Live
The way the economy operates now, most of us work to earn money in order to purchase goods and services which we use to define our lives. The work itself might be bad for our physical or emotional health due to exposure to toxic substances or excessive stress. For many of us, the hours worked and time spent commuting takes time away from being with our friends, family and being involved in our community life.
GANE lays out some general principles for creating full employment and suggests that the work we do should itself contribute to the quality of our life, including our community life. When our work helps create a healthy and vibrant community, there is less need to spend money on social costs such as security guards and jails or on the environmental costs of cleaning up pollution.
The current recession has caused some families to rethink their relationship to their community as highlighted by the May 4, 2009 Washington Post story “In Recession, Some See Burst of ‘Neighboring.’”
In the Glenmont neighborhood of Silver Spring MD, a neighborhood association was formed to combat vacant lots and petty crime linked to the economic downturn. “Seven months later, Glenmont had its crime watch, but also much more: As the neighbors got out of their homes and started talking to each other, the sense of connection grew....They had a ‘visioning’ session for their community and created a colorful website.” In another community, “...one neighbor organized a tool-borrowing collective, another a summer jobs program for teenagers to spruce up the condominium grounds.” And in Fredericksburg, neighbors in one subdivision “planted trees, donated items to a neighbor with five children who lost his job, and formed a study group on debt-free living.”
As this sense of community develops, neighbors no longer relate to each other as consumers. As one neighbor expressed it,
“’Before, everybody was showing off what they had. Now it‘s like, ‘What can I cut back?’ and ‘How are you doing things differently?’ Before, the guy who has the biggest Hummer on the street was the biggest guy in the world. That’s gone.”
Work and worth are no longer defined by earning capacity, but by an emerging sense of building community.
For non-corporate work structures:
Co-ops: Resistance and Hope
Fedco Seeds: A Consumer/Worker Cooperative by C.R. Lawn
For a good presentation of environmental reasons to move away from an economy where work is focused on producing more and more, check out
How Much Is Enough? by Alan Durning (W.W. Norton, New York: 1992, $8.95).
The social psychology is laid out clearly in these books.
The Poverty of Affluence by Paul Wachtel (New Society Publishers, Philadelphia: 1989, $12.95) looks at the disconnect between economic growth and personal well-being. His insights are not diminished as the years pass.
The Overworked American, The Unexpected Decline of Leisure by Juliet B. Schor, an economist at Harvard, provides an academic perspective on the same phenomenon. (Basic Books, New York: 1992, $12)
At the personal level, these books encourage fundamental rethinking.
Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin (Penguin Books, New York: 1992, $11) looks at how our work relates to personal satisfaction and sets out practical steps to reorder material priorities and live better for less. They are founders of the New Road Map Foundation, P.O. Box 15981, Seattle, WA 98115.
Voluntary Simplicity, Toward a Way of Life That is Outwardly Simple, Inwardly Rich, by Duane Elgin (Quill/Morrow, 1993, $10.00).
Several books deal with solutions to the problem of unemployment. None take the approach of GANE in defining meaningful work, although the authors have pointed to the need to include full employment as part of GANE.
Jobs for All, A Plan for Revitalization of America by Sheila Collins, Helen Ginsburg and Gertrude Goldberg (Apex Press, New York:1994, $12) lays out the social, economic and environmental importance of full employment and suggest an agenda for accomplishing the goal.
Securing the Right to Employment, Social Welfare Policy and the Unemployed in the United States, by Philip Harvey (Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ:1989) analyzes how federal funds now used to support the unemployed could be better utilized to create jobs.