[August 11, 2022] People work so they can at least have basic shelter from the elements so that they don’t starve, and to protect their family from privations. That is a negative way of viewing work. But work is routine, commitment, and meaning. There is, indeed, value in work for many.
A psychologist (who I cannot remember his name) wrote an article criticizing the idea of universal basic income. He studies the idea of “meaning” in people’s lives. He criticized it because he noted, for example, that one thing that drives people to suicide is the idea that they’re a non-functioning burden on others. So, imagine a portion of the population, and you say to them, “We can’t think of anything useful for you to do, but it would not be good to watch you starve, so here’s some money.”
Many people, especially those who are conscientious (as many of us are), would respond with great despair. That raises the critical ethical question of whether we must care for dispossessed people. That’s a complicated problem. Merely giving people money is not a practical or necessarily helpful solution (as in the universal basic income idea).
The dignity of work, there is a fundamental need. We are like pack animals; we need to feel we are doing our part. And, some people derive their entire meaning from their work, doing their part for the pack. Many people who have nothing to do, they are in the depths of despair. It’s not in their nature not to work. They cannot withstand the loss of purpose and mission.
Plenty of scientific literature shows that conscientious people who lose their jobs become depressed. These people need a purpose. It’s not optional for them. They would shrivel up and die if they could only sit on the beach, soaking up the sun and drinking margaritas all day.
Dr. Jordan Peterson worked with the Naval Academy that wanted him to see if he could help them select cadets for creativity and not just conscientiousness. They wanted independent thinkers who could quickly come up with new solutions, the kind of things creative people can do. What he discovered was that the military is primarily suited to conscientious people.
If you are open and creative, that works in the military if you are in an advanced leadership role. But the question is, how do you get there? Because if you are not highly conscientious, you’ll have trouble as you rise through the ranks. Lots of companies have this same problem. At the low end, conscientiousness is vital, and creativeness is disruptive.
This study by Dr. Peterson shows how valuable work can be but that it is not simply work in and of itself that is the motivator. Personality traits matter.
Please read my new book, “Our Longest Year in Iraq,” on Amazon (link here).