The Protestant Work Ethic, What’s Wrong With It?

What is the Protestant Work Ethic or is it the Puritan Work Ethic (PWE)? To put it succinctly, to me, PWE means that you have no value (in society, your family, and yourself) unless you are productive every day and finish all your work before taking time to play. The problem is that there is never time to play because there is always more work to be done.

Right here, right now, I am declaring war on the PWE and the idea that a fully checked to-do list at the end of the day is a valid reason to feel virtuous and satisfied with myself.

Raised in the country, daily chores came first, then school, then homework, and then play, which was a book to read or an hour of television before bed. Ah, but they were on the weekends you say. My childhood home had three acres of lawns and trees, plus a barn with horses and chickens, all of which had to be cleaned in one way or another, so I spent Saturday mornings working.

My father euphemistically called Saturday morning’s homework the “Saturday Olympics,” and the competition was who of the four children could complete their assignments first. At the age of 10, I was seriously affected by my father’s PWE modus operandi. Until the housework was done, there were no games even on the weekends.

Now in my 60s, after a lifetime of work and almost no gaming, I retired and had to face myself, what did I have to do to keep this PWE and the self-esteem it gave me running? I’m an artist and a writer, but I can’t “create” 8 hours a day, so what was I going to do with the “free” time I had now? For true PWE types, there is no such thing as free time. If you are not being “productive,” you are wasting time, valuable time, that could be spent doing something worthwhile for yourself and others. My solution: 9 months after retiring, I moved alone, to the other side of the country, to a community where I didn’t know anyone, which forced me to “get to work”, make friends, and get involved.

Now, after four years of uninterrupted volunteering for my church, a Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship, running on the sweat of volunteers committed to good works, and for my community, that is, the downtown revitalization effort, I’m exhausted, nor am I. I learned to play what retirement is supposed to be about.

Too much of a good thing eventually turns into a bad thing and that’s where I’m standing right now. Believing in the virtue of the Protestant work ethic has left me burned out, exhausted, and with a sore left shoulder. In fact, it is my shoulder that I have to thank for this little essay, because when my body yells at me, I know that it is just a physical manifestation of a non-physical problem that I need to think seriously about. Having spent a lifetime with my “shoulder behind the wheel”, it’s time to stop, think and think out loud on paper (electronic paper) and figure this out. (Yes, I strongly believe in the mind-body connection, a topic for future essays, I promise.)

The real culprit is, of course, my deeply held belief that “work” is well and the game is … well, if not exactly bad, certainly frivolous and wasteful. Yes, of course I know of all the research on the importance of play to “refuel” one’s energy tanks to get back to life’s work, but I never really believed in any of that. How could i The PWE belonged to me, inside and out, consciously and, more importantly, unconsciously.

I believe that it is one’s beliefs, those deep, mostly unconscious, that create our realities, which is why singing affirmations of what one wishes to have, as promoted in the bestseller, “The Secret”, does not work if Those claims go against one’s fundamental beliefs. My core belief in the virtue of work is not unconscious, but the depth, the breath, and the scope of this belief were, until I began to really look, write, and question.

“Why is work such a good thing? Who told you that? Who sold you that list of goods?”

The answer was, of course, my self-evident truth … BECAUSE IT IS. Everyone knows that work is good, that it is necessary to work to get ahead, to earn the rightful and esteemed place in society. Nobody likes loafers or homeless people who live off other people’s sweat. Where would we be if our early pioneers and founding fathers hadn’t worked hard?

Of course, I learned my PWE from my parents, that is, my father, who was, among other things, a Boy Scout leader and a tireless volunteer from the community. It’s no wonder then that I became a social worker.

But, too much of a good thing eventually turns into a bad thing. So how do I undo that belief or at least modify it to allow fun and play to seep in?

The first thing I had to ask myself was, “What is the opposite of being a hardworking and efficient worker,” because while that was my goal all these years, I must have also been trying to avoid being the opposite … lazy? , free-load loafer. I hate lazy bums. I hate people who don’t carry their own weight. I hate doing other people’s work for them.

The next question is not for cowards. What’s wrong with being a lazy, carefree lazy bum? For those affected by PWE, that’s like asking, what’s wrong with cannibalism?

What’s wrong with laziness and free trade? Are you kidding? What’s wrong with it? Daze, stutter, stutter, choke! Next question?

Again, what’s so terrible about being a lazy, lazy lazy? Peel the onion. Keep asking the impossible questions. Keep challenging those blatant beliefs.

You (I) might also ask such things as, who was a lazy and lazy bum in your life, in your childhood? Whose job did you do for them when everything was wrong? Did they put you in an adult role when you were still a child? Who have you spent your whole life trying to avoid being like?

Now here is the problem. What we hate most in others is what we also hate in ourselves. It is just the other side of the same coin in which our greatest virtue lives. The problem is, we hate to admit that the flip side exists, but it does. So if you have enough personal courage to face your dark side, those characteristics that you hate the most in others, then you must accept that side of yourself, forgive yourself, and then forgive those with whom you have been trying not to be like everyone else. your life. . Oh! Forgive the lazy, mean, lazy bums? This is hard.

Now take it one step further. Consider whether you secretly wouldn’t want to be one of those bums, bums, and bums. Oh! This is hard.

Wait … give me a moment … Would I sometimes like to be lazy, hang around and let others do my work? Oh Universe, forgive me but … err, ah, gee, damn, I … I … would. Lord have mercy, but it pains me to admit this.

Now we are getting somewhere.

Look again. What’s so great about being a great worker? Approval of others? Really? Well, maybe, probably even, but is it worth it? Really worth it? You may have needed those “at-a-girls” and “at-a-boys” when you were little, but do you need them now? Really? Wouldn’t you rather have a little fun? Wouldn’t you rather be a little lazy? Wouldn’t you rather relax a bit? Ah come on, he admitted it. Isn’t the idea even starting to feel a little bit good?

Now here is the real catch. If you are going to change your modus operandi, you have to do it in small, sometimes small steps. Big steps, quick steps, like the proverbial “hare”, result in pendulum swings that carry you back to where you started. When it comes to changing you, the turtle wins.

What’s wrong with the Protestant work ethic? Nothing, unless it’s all you know.

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