Finding a work ethic that works

Wednesday, 25th June 2008 at 8:30 UTC Leave a comment

This article first began to form in my mind when I was reading a collection of 50 most-hated office-speak phrases, and found myself bewildered by how picky people were being. The flames were fanned somewhat as I sat reading an article on the French Economic Minister’s search for a new work ethic. The problem with writing this post, however, is that its not really a fire of passionate annoyance, or passionate approval, more a fire of confusion.

On the one level, I like to think I have a strong work ethic. I’ve been heard uttering the phrase “I’m here to get a job done” more times than I’d like to admit, and generally I look completely dazed and confused if I don’t know what to do with myself. Some of the busyness is a bit artificial, but mostly its just damned determination to look after the world, and evidence I have next to no self-preservation. What this leads to is a bit of a pendulum effect: when I’m on a roll, its 60 hour weeks of pure activism, when I almost burn myself out, its time to let the emails pile up and try and ignore the world and sleep. Lately, its been the latter.

Spending a lot of my time with Anarchists, Union types, etc. this can be a difficult issue. The idea that we should be doing more work is, well, a bit off-putting to say the least. But there are times when higher productivity could be achieved without much pain beyond the initial shock of discovering a new way to undertake a task. Also, there’s the problem of ability: some people will never be able to work either because of accidents or conditions they were born with. In a way, a strong work ethic excludes the disabled, and can even be tied to a rather patronising view of welfare (we must do everything we can to help these people, even if we could let them do a bit of it themselves).

But none of this takes into account the real issue: people need to feel they’re doing something worthwhile, or of course they’ll start to look forward to their holidays as their only reason to live. If I work too hard, its because I’m doing stuff that I’m passionate about. Oh, apparently being passionate about a job is really just management speak.

The bizarre thing I found whilst reading the list of stuff people hate to hear at work was the amount of it I’d love to hear more of in activist circles, and yet we shy away from. The problem isn’t so much people talking the talk, as walking the talk and talking the walk, doing as they say, and being prepared to acknowledge it. Sadly, most people who are talking aren’t doing and even more tragically, those who are just don’t seem to feel good about it. Not that they should feel egotistical, just that maybe if one is “living the values” (a phrase I might use in media work this summer) then use the damned phrase!

Do I have a pre-plan? Yes, I plan when I’m going to do my planning, and when I’m going to do my implementing. I don’t think that my plans for a new activist tools website needs anything doing on it just yet, and I plan to do more on it next academic year. Do I try and get more done by close of play? Yes, and then I go get supper or whatever (perhaps even a pint if I’m lucky). Do I give my friends, colleagues and even the media the odd “heads-up”? Erm, well, you know what, using that phrase was what really told me we’d arrived at the last camp: that we were actually making it big, ‘it’ being direct action, obviously, but ‘big’ for certain. We probably should be trying to leverage more value from opportunities, and leverage the vast pool of skills available to us. Why, oh why, can’t we play the game and win it, instead of mucking around the “we’re so great we can’t be arsed to communicate” world that often seems to be being inhabited.

I digress. Go off-topic. Whatever you’re supposed to say.

Sure, the minister is probably facing a hard time in some areas, particularly agriculture, but much of city life these days seems to be an attempt to get escape said life, often for a completely nebulous and unrealistic ideal of what country life should be like. Its great to see people enjoy a social life, but some purpose, perchance? Its not necessary to be all “mobilising the entrepreneur” but perhaps we should be “mobilising the dream” in a wider, less money-driven, sense.

But then we just get plagued by over-working illnesses and become incredibly dull; motivation isn’t something society seems to relate to unless its going to result in pay: either you’re at the top and going up, or why bother? Suddenly anyone who’s the remotest bit motivated seems completely foreign to everyone else around, an object of interest, but not really anything worth replicating.

Which leaves me wondering if all this is just going round in circles of “work to death” and “rest back up again”. Which really isn’t very sustainable, methinks. The problem is, obviously, I want to do everything. I just don’t think we should be so quick to condemn the idea of actually being upbeat and motivated about putting effort into something. And we really need to sort out the lack of positive language!


Entry filed under: Activism, Culture, Economics, News, Participation, Politics.

I get by with a little help… Hurray for Cycle City York

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