From Laundry to Social Justice to Counseling: Redefining Work as Synonymous to Life

Article excerpt

Abstract: In our culture, we are increasingly obsessed with paid work but seem to have lost sight of "life's work." In the U.S. what we refer to as "work" plays an instrumental role in the way we define ourselves. The importance of work need not be lessened, but the definition must be greatly expanded. "What do you do?" is one of our most common queries. The answer helps shape our perception of other people and ourselves, but in the wrong way. We do not need to stop asking. Instead we need to use the question to inquire about a fellow human being on a far more expansive level. In this article, I explore and question the concept of work in terms of a work utopia which can be seen as synonymous with life utopia. I will take a stab at DEconstructing and REconstructing the concept of work.

Work and life are inseparable and arguably one and the same thing. They are so much a part of one another that they cannot be considered independently. In the film Tuesdays With Morrie, a main character, Mitch Albom, is having a phone conversation with his boss and makes a remark about the disconnection of work and personal life. "It has nothing to do with work," he exclaims. "It is personal" (film). As will be discussed, if we apply a definition of work which includes all its forms, it would be impossible to separate "work" with something "personal" as Mitch tried to do in his phone conversation.

Walking my dog this morning, preparing breakfast, going to the gym, a dentist appointment, a college class, making a phone call to check on a friend, having relatives over for a family dinner tonight-my day is full of work. Previously I would have described such a time as a "day off," in other words, a day where I did not have to go to "work." Actually, when we apply the expanded, inclusive definition of work, we can see that the day is entirely filled with work.

Upon meeting one another, the first thing strangers may usually ask is not "what are your spiritual beliefs," "how do you treat others," or some other such question. A typical question after the exchanging of names is usually "what do you do?" When making this inquiry people are actually asking one another in which type of paid work they are involved. Various kinds of salaried, or wage, work is what typically comes to mind when one thinks of the term.

Phyllis Moen and Patricia Roehling write about the myth of the American Dream in The Career Mystique (2005):

The career mystique incorporates both an endurance ethic and a work ethic, both crucial to the American values of individual and free enterprise. Sacrifice by working hard, the myth goes, and you'll reap wealth, security status, health insurance, pensions, respect, love, admiration, and happiness. (Moen and Roehling, 9)

Moen and Roehling are describing a warped way of viewing work that is unfortunately hard, if not impossible to escape in American society. Everywhere we look there are messages about the connection between better and more material goods and a more fulfilling life in general. Commodification , characterized by the drawing of people into wage labor and consumerism is a stark reality of our culture.

The desire to look deeper, past this forced idea and into the true essence of life is central to the expansion and analysis of the totality of work. While we cannot deny the influence of consumerism, it is not an excuse for inaction or a reason to apply the saying "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em." Instead, such uncritical acceptance of the reality of our consumer culture calls for the need to reexamine our personal feelings about work and the way we work to live as examples of our social ideals.

The realm of work extends far beyond a paid job in the labor force. Work can mean anything that is consciously, intentionally done to satisfy a need. When I began the study of the sociology of work I thought of work in a narrow, limited manner, often ignoring many of the types of work that exist outside the sphere of paid labor. …