This week we're looking at the section entitled, "The need to protect employment," paragraphs 124-129 of Pope Francis's most recent encyclical, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, which can be accessed by clicking here. Basically, it's looking at how an ecology that cares for creation must also be aware of the value of labour in our lives, and how our work can aid -- or hinder -- our planet in its fruitfulness. Paragraph 124 notes that "Developing the created world in a prudent way is the best way of caring for it, as this means that we ourselves become the instrument used by God to bring out the potential which he himself inscribed in things."
Unfortunately, this kind of simplicity has been overtaken by the idea that our personal growth and fulfillment can only be found in what we possess rather than in how we make the world a better place by how and who we are: "once our human capacity for contemplation and reverence is impaired, it becomes easy for the meaning of work to be misunderstood," as St. Pope John Paul noted in his writings (footnote 101). When work is only seen as a means to more possessions rather than as a way to participate in God's creation of a just world, the decline of our environment follows. "Work should be the setting for... rich personal growth, where many aspects of life come into play: creativity, planning for the future, developing our talents, living out our values, relating to others, giving glory to God" (paragraph 127).
So valuing work the way God intended us to is pretty important, isn't it? Work doesn't always meet the above-mentioned criteria, so sometimes, it can feel like drudgery, but when it is taken out of our hands by technology, that's not necessarily good either. Paragraph 128 says, "The goal should not be that technological progress increasingly replace human work.... Yet the orientation of the economy has favoured a kind of technological progress in which the costs of production are reduced by laying off workers and replacing them with machines. This is yet another way in which we can end up working against ourselves... "through the progressive erosion of social capital: the network of relationships of trust, dependability, and respect for rules" that Pope Benedict noted in his 2009 encyclical, Caritas in Veritate.
This reminds me of those automated self check-outs at some of our local stores. 4 or 6 automated tills are situated in the space where two cashiers used to interact with customers. The machines might allow us to move through the line-up more quickly, but they also reduce our interaction with real human beings and allow the corporation to hire fewer people. And hmmmm, how often have I opted for allowing one of those machines to take the place of a real human being when I'm in a hurry lately? More times than I'd like to admit. So I'm actually playing right into the hands of the corporations that are taking work away from human beings just for the sake of convenience. Are you?
And there's the problem. We human beings are easily addicted to convenience, to the point that we forget about the value of labour as a means for providing "meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development and personal fulfillment.... To stop investing in people, in order to gain greater short term financial gain, is bad business for society" (paragraph 128).
And the answer to this bad business? I'm convinced it lies in doing business on a smaller, more human scale than large corporations allow. So is Pope Francis, who says,
Civil authorities have the right and duty to adopt clear and firm measures in support of small producers and differentiated production. To ensure economic freedom from which all can effectively benefit, restraints occasionally have to be imposed on those possessing greater resources and financial power.... Business is a noble vocation... especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good (paragraph 129).The fact that the phrase "the common good" comes up almost 30 times in Laudato Si is significant -- because many human beings have become so focused on what is good, easy, and convenient for themselves rather than what is necessary for the good of ALL. Too many of us have forgotten that we need to serve the common good if we want to have meaningful lives.
So in the week ahead, I intend to pay attention to where I can best serve the common good, where I can support small business rather than soulless greed, and how I can find the balance where my life's work can bring benefit to the life of the world God gave us as pure gift. If I have to shop, I'll support small, local businesses. I plan to visit a farmer's market. And if I have a choice between a self check out and a real live human being, I'll stand in line a little longer to support her or his work.
Next up: #26... How to cure a technological headache