Being unemployed or underemployed isn’t necessarily a bad thing for us and more importantly it may be good for our community. If you think this is a wild assertion, read on.
As late as the mid-19th century, the modern concept of “unemployment” didn’t exist in the United States. Most people lived on farms, and while paid work came and went, home industry—canning, sewing, and carpentry—was a constant. Even in the worst economic panics, people typically found productive things to do in their communities. The despondency and helplessness of unemployment were discovered, to the bafflement and dismay of cultural critics, only after factory work became dominant and cities swelled. It was also true that the family unit was secure and was more closely reliant on each other.
Today, that close family unit has been in many cases, dismantled. And, one theory of work holds that people tend to see and describe themselves in terms of their jobs, careers, or callings. Individuals who say their work is “just a job” emphasize that they are working for money rather than aligning themselves with any higher purpose. Those with pure careerist ambitions are focused not only on income but also on the status that comes with promotions and the growing renown of their peers. In the latter, one pursues a calling not only for pay or status, but also for the intrinsic fulfillment of the work itself.
Perhaps we should look at our capacity for compassion, deep understanding and our creative minds for the answers to our current woes and to our future. Even if you are financially stable, simple leisure is certainly one outcome of the increasing loss of job opportunities, but I would argue that many of us can and should look passionately to find ways to find fulfillment and build productive communities outside the workforce. The very things that help many of us are a routine, an absorbing distraction, a daily purpose, an identity, and a creative activity that leads to a sense of our autonomy. What if we could find ways to find meaningful work without formal wages and a steady job, but instead through a number of other avenues of payment including a bartering system or one of money paid at the completion of a task that would not only satisfy ourselves but be good for our community?
Do you believe, as have many proposed, that we are heading for an dystopian future sitting on a couch wasting time or worse, entering into a life of crime, as witness to our growing and burgeoning prison system will attest, or do you ascribe to the notion of living a life full of purpose and fulfillment that can be achieved with community support and guidance?
Do you have an opinion whether we should be looking to our universities to embrace the notion that they should once again be cultural centers of inquiry instead of what they seem to be today, another job preparation center?
We need your voice and expertise to get some very exciting initiatives going. We believe the answers to the questions and concerns of our time rest with us the individual and not with government. History is clear on this issue; true and lasting change always begins and eventually happens from the bottom up and never from the top down. Civil Rights, Women’s Suffrage, Marriage Equality, Affordable Care Act, and the list go on. All of these advances happened on the backs of our sisters and brothers who came before us.
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