Dear Total Work Newsletter readers,
In light of the fact that over 28 million Americans have recently filed for unemployment, I thought now may be the time for a Q&A issue, an issue concerned with taking stock, getting an overview, and coming to an assessment of Total Work.
With these things in mind, feel free, in the comments section below or, if you prefer, via email (email@example.com), to answer any or all of these questions:
1.) Since you’v been reading this newsletter and since you’ve been thinking about Total Work, has there been anything that has been clarified—I mean, really, sharply, intuitively clarified—for you? Or is there anything related to your understanding of Total Work that you’re grateful for?
2.) As you think about Total Work further, is there anything that remains unclear to you? That something could be personal, existential, sociological, theoretical, and so on.
3.) As you think about Total Work further, do you find that there’s something that, say, I’ve been in error about, or that I’ve overlooked, or that may be in need of reconsideration?
Again, feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or send me an email in the form of a letter. The next issue will be the result of whatever conversation or conversations unfold in response to these questions.
May you and yours continue to be well and safe. With kindness,
1. Several things: a. The actual terminology; Total Work always makes me think about Total War, and the way both come to dominate our lives is the perfect analogy. From a sociological/theological perspective, conceptually I really like that whole Weberian Protestant Work Ethic on steroids that is Total Work. How work can become a substitute for God in a secular world. b. Being able to separate Total Work from right livelihood; how extricating oneself from a Total Work mindset does not mean that we suddenly drop all our responsibilities but that we take a proper perspective on them. c. I am grateful that learning about this term is helping me think about and enact practical ways to work less. For example, while still being responsible I am checking my emails and marking less at weekends. Next academic year I will be working less hours. I am also thinking about ways in which I can consume less and be happy with what I have materially instead of wanting new things.
2. a. That some people have such colossal amounts of energy (instantiated within them at the mitochondrial level is my hunch) that only the demands on Total Work can burn it off? b. Whether some jobs by their very nature have powerful in-built tendencies towards Total Work no matter what we do about it; emergency service jobs, for example?
I've had many friends reach out to me over the past few weeks. The tone of the conversations have been similar. One friend wrote in an email "I get it now" about the nonsense and meaningless of his job despite high-status and high pay.
The themes of these conversations are a sharpening of focus on what you might loosely call "what matters" (but also something that can't ever fully be articulated). People have a lot of guilt (especially if they can work from home and have a good salary) related to still being able to work when many low-wage people cannot even legally work.
Some random thoughts and questions that I keep pondering that may help you think about what to write about:
1. How the word "work" is too broad and totally insufficient to really talk about work
2. The difference between work and employment
3. More practically, It seems an inevitable outcome of this crisis may be a jobs program of "makework" - is there a way to "hack" this with new ways of thinking about work or finding things beyond the traditional construction type jobs that will inevitably be proposed
4. You have been a bit hesitant to outline what a "good" approach to work looks like, but it does appear that things like shifting to fully-remote do provide somewhat of an opening to putting life before work. It would be interesting to see an earnest attempt / guide for leaders to think about that.