I wrote this post on April 24, 2013 but did not publish it on my blog until now. This issue is increasingly on my mind, and I have edited and added to this post to reflect that fact.
At least you have a job.
People throw that phrase around as if it should be enough. If you are deeply unhappy in your job, or if it leaves you too exhausted for the things (not to mention the people) you love, or if it is meaningless or boring work? Hey, at least you have a job! At least you are making money.
And if you have a job or three and still are barely scraping by? And if you work six days a week only to face bankruptcy? And if your employer intentionally keeps your hours just shy of full-time so s/he doesn’t have to give you benefits? Hey, at least you have a job.
This thinking is wrong.
It is not enough just to have a job! Why should it be enough just to have a job?
I can think of several reasons for this thinking/attitude. One reason is Welfare. Welfare looms up like a great face of shame in our culture. It’s all well and good for people to say welfare is there for those who need it, but even a short glimpse on social media shows a different attitude. Take for example the meme going around that declares all welfare recipients (or would-be recipients) should have to pass a urine drug test in order to receive welfare. The rationale for this is given that (some) jobs require urine drug tests. To me, this meme shows a belief that many welfare recipients are drug addicts.
Besides that single meme, the overall image is of the welfare recipient as lazy, not wanting to work, addicted to one substance or another, and having children s/he can’t afford to keep. To be on welfare is to be a failure. To be on welfare, to ask for help, to need support is seen as a sign of weakness, which is deemed a bad thing.
Another reason for this attitude is the American dream. The American dream is that if anyone works hard enough, s/he can be wealthy/have a home/have kids/have any of the multitude of consumer goods available. It is a lie. Even Helen Keller, the woman we Americans learn as children to be this shining example of overcoming adversity, knew this dream to be a lie: (quoted from the book Midstream: My Later Life by Helen Keller in the book Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen © 1995)
“I had once believed that we were all masters of our fate—that we could mould our lives into any form we pleased….I had overcome deafness and blindness sufficiently to be happy, and I supposed that anyone could come out victorious if he threw himself valiantly into life’s struggle. But as I went more and more about the country I learned that I had spoken with assurance on a subject I knew little about. I forgot that I owed my success partly to the advantages of my birth and environment…Now, however, I learned that the power rise in the world is not within the reach of everyone.”
For this idea that is the American dream and this fear/shame of welfare and other reasons, we have told ourselves that having a job that kills the light inside us is enough.
Why can’t having a job that pays a living wage and is ethical/meaningful/fun be enough?
At least you have a job you love. At least you are paid enough for a job you love (or, at least, like). At least you have a job that fills you with joy.
Why have we deemed happiness to be so unimportant in an area of our lives that takes up so much of our time and energy?
If life is so short, as the clichés spout, why should we spend so much of it so desperately unhappy?
We created these systems of work and jobs and capitalism and consumerism. It’s time we created something better.