Today, I want to talk about work. Now, I’m not just talking about jobs. I’m talking about work in the sense of our life’s work, our vocation, or our calling. I find the concept of work to be complex, because I often equate it with anything that’s hard or that I don’t want to do. This came up for me because of the election. Now that President Obama has been reelected, I think that most people recognize that we have work to do as a country. A lot of it. And I think that most of us envision long and grueling hours of toil en route to a better world, or at least a more stable world. And it’s like: “Aw man. I really just wanted to watch TV.” Work becomes something that is the opposite of fun.
I would like to argue that this is the wrong way to look at work, and particularly at the road ahead post-election. It has to do with Einstein’s famous quote: “Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.” In other words, we have gotten ourselves into a mess—a warming planet, a looming fiscal cliff, a sluggish economy—through a certain level of thinking. And we are not going to solve our problems with the same set of broken patterns.
Now, I could list off a series of such problematic patterns. The list would no doubt include rampant consumerism coupled with a failure to think long-term and a tendency to point fingers instead of examining our own responsibility in the matter. But going much further than this makes me sound preachy (if I haven’t sounded that way already), and what is worse: it makes me sound as though I’m claiming that I know the answer. I don’t.
Real and lasting shifts in the fabric of human history have often come by way of visionaries who were able to dream up a world that was fundamentally different than the world in which they lived. I’m thinking of great thinkers, mystics, artists, writers of all stripes: Leonardo da Vinci; Sir Isaac Newton; Gandhi; Martin Luther King, Jr.; Susan B. Anthony; Mother Theresa; Jesus; Buddha. They all looked at the world around them, and they said: There is a better way to live. Or perhaps, there is a different way of looking at the world that we have not yet considered.
We live in a world that is constantly changing. And we forget this, and we go about our daily lives as if it will always be this way. This is the way it is done, we say to ourselves. But is it? What other ways are there?
Which brings us back to the idea of work. Going through the motions won’t cut it anymore. We have to dream up new ways of living on this planet, because there is no other alternative. As contemporary artist and thinker Brian Andreas said, “If we fail this time, it will be a failure of imagination.” And he’s right. We have work to do; yes. But I believe that it is a different kind of work than what we generally consider to be work. What we need is to dream up new paradigms, fresh approaches, novel frameworks by which to understand the world in which we live.
So here we go. The election is over. Let’s roll up our sleeves, to be sure. Let’s be prepared to give it our all. But let us redefine what it means to “give it our all.” What does it mean to you? For me, it means that I do my part to make the world that much brighter during my time on this earth. Which brings me to the Gospel of St. Thomas: “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” So there you have it. We all have work to do. Bring it forth. Let’s start today.