What is Work?

An old friend of my family had a favorite saying: “Work is something unpleasant done for money.”

I lost touch with the fellow long ago, but the phrase has stuck in my mind and popped up occasionally over the years. Some of my recent conversations about economic systems, here and elsewhere, have brought it again to the fore.  

I thought it was a funny line when I first heard it. I was pretty young then. I hadn’t analyzed the ramifications of conceptualizing work as something to be avoided, or to be vilified, or generally the hidden concept here that if work is bad, then what we are doing, as workers, is perhaps bad too.

“Work is something unpleasant done for money.” Any statement that has a lot of hidden implications tends to stick in my head, until I get around to sorting them out. One of the implications here is that work is about money.

Another thing I remember reading or hearing is that work should not be about money, in fact is not about money; that you do work for its own sake, while money is something that has to be addressed if it becomes a problem, but that’s something of a separate question.

Okay, so work is good? Work is bad? What is work?

I have a Max Asnas quote in my collection: “Money is something you have to make in case you don’t die.” This statement encompasses both of the prior ones. If you frame the discussion around money, not work, there are no conflicts.

I’m trap-shy. I’ve always wanted to go my own way, and have sacrificed a lot to do so. I like to look for traps.

So, where’s the trap, here? Is it money, or is it work?

Another quote I have around here somewhere but am not going to be able to find easily, is about traps…about how if you’re in a trap, it’s all very well to write songs about the traps, to invent mythologies about the trap, to sit around and commiserate with each other about the trap, etc. (I’m paraphrasing). But (the quote continues in paraphrase) the only really useful thing to work on is:

“What is the way out of the trap?”

I don’t know how to do that without working on discussing exactly what the trap is. Hence this small philosophical post for your early morning pleasure. Any thoughts are welcome.

Happy Halloween.



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    • Miep on November 1, 2009 at 08:14

    in Ross MacDonald’s “The Goodbye Look.”

    • Diane G on November 1, 2009 at 12:23

    Work for money is often drudgery. Yet, it can be enjoyable if you like what you do or the people around you.

    But at home? I think of it as projects not work. Escpecially the big things. A project is something you choose to do because you will enjoy the results.

    I’ve had to spend time totally idle, and that is far overrated.

    A nice balance is best.

    • Edger on November 1, 2009 at 13:07

    could short sell it, Tim Geithner would want it deregulated.

  1. when I’d go off whining about having to work:

    “Why do you think they call it ‘work’?!”

  2. Which is why management had to end it.

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