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Remembering Winter – Fondly!

February 10, 2016

Winter in MAWe grew up in the Northeastern part of the United States of America: Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York (up-state, Syracuse area). Our daughter is living in the Boston, MA area and sent this beautiful picture (today, 2/5/2016) of the sunset after a fine winter snow storm. And it caused a flood of memories that of course, merged with what I was working on at the time. It goes something like this.

We live, since 1991, in beautiful Southern California, and so I don’t think much about snow any more — except to see it on the mountains a couple of hours away from us. Here’s part of what I remember of my time living in the snow belt of Upstate New York. I remember, after a big winter storm, I got out the snow-blower and snow shovel and undertook the back-breaking task of clearing out our driveway and walk ways. I remember trying to be “precise” with the edges of the snow (often three feet deep) to make sharp cuts that looked neat. After hours of work, I would look back, tired and often a bit sore, to see a job well done. There was a sense of accomplishment.

I even remember “enjoying” re-clearing the end of the driveway after the snow-plow buried us–again! It was not unusual to have to dig out the end of the driveway several times and even to dig out our mailbox several times. Sometimes the snow was quite wet and heavy, which meant a lot of hand work since the snow-blower often got clogged up with the heavier snow. Back breaking. But in the end, as I sat in our warm home and drank a hot coffee or tea, it was a sense of having completed a job. There were visible results from all my efforts.

So how did this “merge” with what I was working on at the time? Well, what I was doing was more research on the thoughts around technology eliminating a fair number of our jobs — all kinds of jobs, not just manufacturing jobs. I have been thinking about and researching this topic for some time now, but had put it aside for a few months. I picked it up again last week. I’m happy to report that there is more for me to read and absorb. People are finally taking this seriously and a lively discussion is taking place, with insights and opinions from many different points of view. It’s all good in my book.

One of the major concerns is that humans seem to take pride in their work and often define themselves by their profession. So the question that always comes up is even if we solve the economic part of the puzzle (how do we survive if cannot work?), what do we do about the psychological issues around not being able to work, to provide for our families and/or take pride in accomplishments? This is what resonates with me more than any other part of this problem. As painful as it might be, I have confidence that we will figure out something on the economic front. But what about our “collective” and personal self-worth?

There is a school of thought that says once we are “freed-up” from the need to provide for basics, we will be able to pursue our “calling.” That calling may supplement our basic income (often called a “Universal Basic Income” by thought leaders in this area), or it may be used to barter or trade. The point is, we would be doing what “makes our heart sing” rather than doing the drudge work necessary to provide basics for our family or ourselves. To be sure there will be those who aspire to being couch potatoes, but many, I think, will want the intellectual stimulation of some form of creativity and human interaction.

A colleague is fond of reminding me that we need to do something now, not just worry about what’s going to happen one or two decades hence. I agree. The movement toward helping people find meaning in their work in order to enhance employee engagement, is a step in the right direction not only for today, but for defining human meaning/purpose for the future. As I work more on this issue, I am drawing the personal conclusion that it is a long overdue human dream that we be “relieved of the drudgery of a job” so that we can pursue a calling. Deep meaningful work, whether with a volunteer organization or something creative that we have wished to pursue, can remain a pleasure since we do not have to monetize it to earn a living.

As always, the devil is in the details. We will have to get over our dogmatic view of how our economy works. I am hopeful that we can do it. At least we are talking about it more seriously now. And if you want to think about this, here’s a great article to start you down the path. It’s detailed, long and engaging. It’s worth the time to read. A World Without Work — Derek Thompson, The Atlantic, July/August 2015

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