beauty labor

Business or Busyness?

9:30:00 AMChase J. Cloutier

File:Csuk Harrowing.jpg

I don’t know about you and your work habits, but there are times when I personally become totally absorbed in my work. 

The upcoming deadline, publication, or event fills my attention and, while on the clock, all I can think about is finishing the task at hand and preparing for the next project. And yet on other occasions I am preoccupied with what I’ll be doing next weekend. How many hours until I can do as I please? We alternate between spending all our time working and passing the hours idly entertaining ourselves. The perpetual recurrence of Monday always seems an insurmountable obstacle while the indubitable return of Friday appears to us to be a liberation from the drudgery of our endless toil.

We live in an age consumed with consumption and overworked with working overtime. 

Is everybody really just “working for the weekend”? When we are “takin’ care of business,” are we actually overwhelmed by busyness? Do our “restful vacations” become restive evacuations, bringing even more activity into our hectic lives?

Does man realize the deepest meaning of his life only through labor?

To consider these points I think it would be helpful to bring in the thought of another German philosopher of the 20th century, similar to Hildebrand for his passion for culture, his intellectual dedication to ethics, and his personal commitment to standing up for truth: Josef Pieper (1904-1997). In his work Leisure: the Basis of Culture, Pieper takes up this question central to the life of man: is man made for work? 

Does man realize the deepest meaning of his life only through labor? If we do work in order to have leisure, how should this downtime be characterized?

Certainly work is highly significant to man in that through work man applies his energies to some creative task, achieving a meaningful goal. Usually one earns a livelihood through some form of labor, providing for oneself and one’s loved ones. There is a rightful sense of accomplishment that one feels because one has done this work themselves. They deserve the fruits of their labor.

On the other hand one might be tempted to believe that one’s whole worth as a person is dependent on how much they work. 

Thus, consider a man who normally is the main provider for his family. Unfortunately, he is injured in a car accident and can no longer work. His wife, who previously only had a part time job, switches to full time until her husband can recover. Before, both the husband and the wife actively gave and received, albeit in different ways and to different extents. Is the husband worth any less as a person because he is unable to work? Did the wife have less value before she worked full time?

In accord with Pieper’s analysis, while hard work is rewarding and helps us to realize our capacity to create, an appreciation for the active dimension that work contributes in human life and culture must be balanced with an adequate consideration of the role that a more receptive attitude must play. The dignity and value of the husband and wife are not reducible to how much they work, though being able to provide for one’s family is a significant responsibility. Every human person is intrinsically valuable, having a dignity based on the very fact of their personhood. Though some might want to understand the value of a society as arising from the kind of work that it does, it is important to note the central role that leisure plays in culture.

We must take time to consider the beauty hidden in everyday life.

Pieper, following after Aristotle (1), wants to say that a vibrant culture can only grow in the context of leisure. Here leisure is not to be understood as equivalent with mindless entertainment such as continuously watching television or self-indulgent vice like drinking to excess. Rather, Pieper characterizes leisure as “a receptive attitude of mind, a contemplative attitude.” (2) Relaxing from our constant drive to produce, to build, and to work, we must take time to really look at the world, to consider the beauty hidden in everyday life and to savor the truth which we learn. In short, we must be contemplative. When we engage in this attitude, we are enabled to receive the full meaning of creation and all its many wonders. For many of the most profound dimensions of reality only disclose themselves to the one who is willing to wait upon their revelation.

Thus, on a Sunday afternoon, a peaceful stroll through the park is worthwhile without accomplishing any work, even without a set destination. On one level, you are resting from the tiring work of the week so that you may engage fully recharged on Monday. Yet if this were the only reason you went on a walk, it would turn out to be a rather dull walk. You would miss out on the beauty of the day. The desire for rest might motivate your walk to begin with, but if your thoughts were consumed with the work to be done on Monday, it would no longer be leisurely. You only might experience it as a “recharge”: appropriate for batteries but hardly for people.

When we engage in recollection, we are able to return to our work with minds made new.

This resonates with Hildebrand’s writing on “Recollection and Contemplation” (3) in which he tells of the need for the human being to have time of restful receptivity to the meaning of life and the world. (4) Realizing who we are and who we are meant to be, we are enabled to lead our lives more fully in accord with the truth of our being. When we engage in recollection, that “awakening to the essential,” (5) we are able to return to our work with minds made new, following after the purpose of our lives.

File:Frank Blackwell Mayer - Independence (Squire Jack Porter) - Google Art Project.jpgWith a recollected mind we will be able to take up our work not as an oppressive burden, but as a natural step toward the time of restful celebration and festivity. True leisure, properly enjoyed, gives us a serene peace that permeates the whole week and makes work light. The joyful repose of Sunday can then open to work undertaken confidently and calmly on Monday.

What do we need to change in our week in order to make room for real leisure?

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1. “We are unleisurely in order to have leisure.” - Aristotle Cf. Josef Pieper, Leisure, the Basis of Culture (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2009) 20.
2. Pieper, Leisure, 46-47: “...it is not only the occasion but also the capacity for steeping oneself in the whole of creation.”
3. Dietrich von Hildebrand, “Recollection and Contemplation” in Transformation in Christ (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2001).
4. Cf. “Recollection and Contemplation,” 133: “The primary attitude of man, as a creature, is a receptive one.” Also, cf. p.119: “contemplation represents a specifically restful attitude, in which we...actualize our entire being.”
5. Cf. “Recollection and Contemplation,” 106: “Recollection proper always means an awakening to the essential, a recourse to the absolute which never ceases to be all-important and in whose light alone everything else discloses its true meaning.”

Image 1: Harrowing, Jeno Csuk (1887-1927). Unknown date, private collection. Image 2: Independence (Squire Jack Porter), Frank Blackwell Mayer (1827-1899). 1858. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.


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1 comments

  1. Great article. Pieper always fascinates, and uplifts. To have rest, we need order. It reminds me of Horvat's work Return to Order where he coins the term "frenetic intemperance," which lies at the root of our frenzied economy and lifestyle.

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