Take This Job and Shove It?

That would require that one had the job in the first place, though.

I stumbled over this essay this morning on the concept of meaning work.  In trying to figure out who Thomas Sowell is responding to, I found this other article (not the one that Sowell is responding to) that tries to define the idea of meaningful work.  
I don’t agree with Sowell’s jabs at intellectuals via the warning signs about buffalos or the dangers of hitchhiking.  Ignorance bred out of of isolation to a particular danger is not a matter of greater or lesser education or intelligence necessarily.  If we don’t know that something is dangerous, the odds are greater that we will react to it in a way that proves to be potentially harmful.  If we survive our stupidity, we learn (theoretically) from our mistake and pass on that information.  
Likewise, we need to remember that attitudes of entitlement exist across all strata of society in different ways – some more obvious than others.  I believe they are born out of ignorance as well.  People are raised with certain assumptions about the world.  Those assumptions may be erroneous, and if they are (and if they survive), they will learn truth otherwise and be the wiser for it.  But this can take a lot of time.
I know a wonderful person who is seeking employment.  They don’t lack for education, good manners, a sharp mind, and a great personality.  They do seem to lack a sense of reality when it comes to finding a job, however.  At least a sense of reality as I’ve experienced it.  Their assumption is that their personality and education should allow them to bypass certain requirements for nice-paying jobs, like years of experience in the workforce.  They want the lifestyle and position of someone who has spent a decade or more working their way up, gathering experience and building connections, and they assume that their education and background will compensate for these other deficiencies.  They want an office without slogging through cubicles.
It’s a painful place for this person and their family to be in.  And I worry they’ll be there a while in this highly competitive job market, when they might be better off lowering their sights a bit and ‘settling’ for something that may not seem worthy of their background, that isn’t as meaningful.
I agree with Sowell’s idea that meaningful work can be a misguiding principle, that some work has to get done simply because it has to get done.  But I don’t think he’s operating from the same idea of meaningful work here as the second article I linked to above does.  I wish I knew what Sowell was responding to so I could understand why he takes this particular tack – it seems rather narrow.
Of course the whole notion of meaningful work is hardly new.  In fact, Martin Luther in the  16th century was asserting the notion that most forms of work were God-pleasing (so long as they were not sinful in and of themselves, ie. prostitution).  Bucking the notion that the best jobs were church-related (priests, monks, nuns, etc.), Luther argued that in fulfilling our vocations – whatever that might be – we were serving our neighbor and therefore conducting ourselves in ways every bit as pleasing to God, as holy, as it were, as joining a religious order.  Considering that Luther was himself trained as an Augustinian monk, this argument becomes even more impressive.  
I served in a variety of what would be considered menial jobs as I was growing up.  I stocked shelves in a grocery store.  I worked in a drug store as a cashier and a stock boy.  And perhaps most glorious of all, I slung burgers in one of the largest national burger chains that is not McDonald’s (though technically I worked for McDonald’s for roughly an hour, I think).  
These jobs weren’t meaningful, per se.  But each job served my neighbor in some way.  I provided her with necessary food items to feed her family.  I facilitated his purchase of prescriptions to cure his child’s sickness.  I cooked the food that allowed someone to go back to work for another few hours to earn a living.  Sure, I reeked of pickle juice at the end of the shift, but the job provided myself and others with something we wanted or needed.  The fact that I didn’t particularly care for the smell of pickles was a further incentive for me to figure out a job that didn’t require me to be elbow-deep in vats of pickles.  
The second article’s assertion that meaningful work is in part a matter of attitude and perspective is important here.  I thank God for the people that do the countless jobs that I personally would prefer not to have to do, which in turn enables me to do other work.  However seeing my work (and theirs) as meaningful isn’t just dependent on my current state of mind.  It’s how God has created the world.  We serve a God that doesn’t just command that we love our neighbor as ourselves, He’s actually designed us and the world around us so that we naturally do this.  Perhaps not wholeheartedly.  Perhaps in surliness and bitterness.  But any job that is not explicitly sinful can and should be seen as a way that God cares for his creation and allows his creation to participate in the process.  
I like to think that I learned things about myself and others from all of the various jobs I’ve needed to hold or sought to hold.  I like to think that each job benefitted not just myself and my needs and wants, but the needs and wants of others as well, whether that link is obvious or more subtle.  More importantly than what I like to think, though, I have the confidence that whether I see the link or not, it is there.  That’s the way I’m made.  That’s the way creation functions.  
Go to work.  Do the job well.  Give thanks.  It doesn’t matter if someone (or anyone) else sees your job as meaningful or worthy.  If it’s a job that needs doing, it’s meaningful in some way to someone.  

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