My step-daughter was exceptionally intractable. There are numerous skills that are needed in order to be a functioning adult, few of which are learned by playing video games and sleeping. I would ask her (yes it was a polite command) to do something and her response would be, “I HATE doing [my request]!” My answer would be “And you are free to hate it. You still have to do it.” Some things aren’t optional. Well, they are, but the consequences for not doing them aren’t pretty. There are plenty of TV shows about people who have neglected – for whatever the reason – to do something they were uncomfortable with, and now they have a professional come in and clean up the mess they made. Hoarding and the failure to attend to either one’s financial state, or the cleanliness of one’s home are some examples. These shows are not only about families, but about businesses. She may have hated doing it, but I wasn’t about to let her free-ride, and she needed the skills.
A friend of mine recently called my attention to this essay. He seemed to find it a wondrous idea, full of hope and optimism. The author states that all work is perfectly horrid, tedious and soul killing, and that we should do away with it utterly. Tribal hunter/gatherer’s have far more free time and their “work” looks an awful lot like what we call play. Mr Black doesn’t take the time to tell us how to actually achieve his desired “ludic life,” he’s too busy talking about how horrible it is to do something you don’t want to do. He says, “Play is always voluntary. What might otherwise be play is work if it’s forced.” [emphasis his]
(I will try not to be sarcastic, but some of my thought process about this will creep through.)
Leaving aside the whole ‘how to get there’ piece – for which I can imagine a very ugly scenario – let me begin by offering some examples of things which are uncomfortable that we might, just might, encounter because we are embodied and human.
- Interacting with people who disagree with us
- Cleaning the home
- [list your favorite natural disaster here]
- The death of a loved one
- The loss of a home
Need I continue?
Mr Black is free to hate his work. But he gives no explanation as to why he has not embarked upon his ludic life for himself. Nor does he offer an explanation for those that do, in fact, enjoy working. When my step-daughter went off to an engineering college, she entered with the attitude that she was quite competent in math and had nothing at all to worry about. She proceeded to fail her placement test in math and had to take a remedial course. Fortunately she buckled down and worked and was presently tutoring other students, which she did for the rest of her college career, both for money and informally. She described how her self-esteem rose along with her mastery, and she wondered how she could have wasted all that time as a teen playing video games.
Play is indeed a wonderful thing, but the hard and fast line between work and play that drives Mr Black simply doesn’t exist. Except in one’s head. Anything can be work and anything can be play. Mr Black’s attempt to define work as something that is by definition abhorrent, is ridiculous. Not only because each person is different, but because he entirely neglects the reasons why we do things that we find unpleasant. Most often, those reasons include taking care of those we love most.
I clean my home because it makes for a calm and happy environment when my husband comes home.* I do the bookkeeping because I’m the person who has the patience to do it, and I hate seeing him struggle. I go out and earn money so that he doesn’t worry so much and so he doesn’t have to work so hard. I do these things that really do feel like work out of love. And he does the same and for the same reasons. But it would not be enough if we both loathed what we did. Then there would be anger and resentment. And when I got saddled with the aforementioned step-daughter, I assure you, I was resentful. Very. But I did the work.
And I learned how to make at least some of it easier and even fun.
If what we are doing is loathsome, there are two choices. 1) Change our attitude. This is most easily done by looking at the big picture and understanding why we are doing something. If we can’t find a satisfactory answer, then move on to 2) Move on. Do something else. Do it quickly or ease into it. Just do it. Go hunting, find a tribe to live with, gather herbs, garden, ski, or get another job!
That’s not the sum of my critique by any means, but it’s enough for now.
*Yes we have a fairly traditional division of labor. It works for us. Yes, I do work outside the home but not nearly as much as he does.