I think the world has become confused about work.
Instead of thinking that work is something to be endured to bring in the money we need to live, or a means of making us rich we should think of our work as our contribution to fulfilling the needs of society. We need to start thinking of it as ‘what can I give’ instead of ‘what do I get’.
And in a similar manner, society needs to think more clearly about the needs of the individual. All of us need to eat, sleep and live somewhere that we can call home. And the reciprocal side of the exchange is that when someone contributes to society, then society has a duty of love to meet the needs of that person.
Jesus told a parable of a man who hired workers for his vineyard. Some he hired in the morning, some in the afternoon, and some just before closing time. But he paid them all the same. He paid them what they needed to live. But of course, those who worked all day felt that this was not just and grumbled. Yet the vineyard owner pointed out that they were happy to work for their agreed wages, and they had received them. All the workers were willing to work. They were willing to make their contribution to society, even if there was no immediate work required. And they all had the same needs. The vineyard owner met their needs. Why can’t we follow this example?
Similarly, how do we decide how much someone should be paid? Is it according to the contribution that the job makes to society? How valuable is it to society when a person sits at a desk and manages our money? How valuable is it to society when a person removes the rubbish that we create during the week? How valuable is it to society when a person serves us a meal in a café or restaurant? I have to say that the most valued workman I’ve encountered is the one who came to clear our blocked drains when the raw sewerage was overflowing! Yet he is paid less than I am, when I spend much of my time sitting at a computer terminal.
It is not my aim to claim that job A is X times as valuable as job B, but to add into our thinking and actions that we need to be willing to pay each person sufficient to meet their needs.
Unfortunately the recent trend is that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. I don’t have a problem with unequal pay, and with pay that reflects the value to society of the work. But I do take issue with a system that ignores the ‘need’ part of the equation.
Can you and I do anything? Yes we can. Even if it is only being willing to pay a fair price instead of the lowest price for goods and services.
But also, the reward for our work is more than just money. We all value the respect of our fellow human beings. One thing that we can all do is to treat everyone, in whatever job, with respect and with appreciation.
And similarly, when we are working, we can consider our work as more than just a job but as a contribution to society. The bricklayer can choose to be building a home instead of laying some bricks.
And we also need to respect those who are seeking work but unable to find it. Not only do they receive no wages, our benefit system disrespects them and prevents them making their contribution to the good of us all. Can’t we treat them like those in Jesus’ parable who were looking for work , and who at the end of the day were then paid what they needed to live.
Let’s think on these things as we go about or daily life of working, waiting, shopping and ‘consuming’. Let’s change our attitudes.