Saturday, January 30, 2016

Laudato Si: Sunday Reflection #25... Toward a work/life balance

Work-life balance is something a lot of people are thinking and talking about these days, but today I'm using the term in a different sense than you might expect: the work of human beings is important because it gives us a sense of purpose and meaning, but it must be balanced with the life of the planet, which is also important. As has been noted in much of what we've been reading from Laudato Si lately, too often the value we give to human endeavour has trumped the value of the rest of creation. There needs to be a balance between the way we use our earth's resources in our work if we are to have a true work/life balance for ourselves and our planet.

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."

Paragraph 125 underlines the importance of a "correct understanding of work." If we understand human labour correctly, we see that it is underpinned by our relationship with God, with others and with all created things. The holy people of our collective past seemed to understand this better than we do today -- the desert mothers and fathers lived simply and without using more resources than they required, ancient monasteries lived a rhythm that allowed them to meet the needs of the communities housed within and around them, and practices were developed to replenish resources depleted by human beings. Early spiritual communities were more organic and carbon neutral than we are today. "Personal growth and sanctification came to be sought in the interplay of recollection and work. This way of experiencing work makes us more protective and respectful of the environment; it imbues our relationship to the world with a healthy sobriety" says the end of paragraph 126.

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.

Join me?

A prayer for our earth

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.


(A prayer for our earth and all quotations from Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home © Libreria Editrice Vaticana)

Next up:  #26... How to cure a technological headache

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