Many people say, or at least think, that “Life is Hard”. And most folks who think this, feel it is unavoidable, a condition of being in a human body, or at best a consequence of living in our current economic/political system. I believe that life IS hard for many people, but it is not from some generalized condition of being human, or even of living in an inhuman economic system, it is from a number of very specific conditions of living in the modern world, conditions we can recognize and change. Most people do not recognize the causes of their suffering because everyone around them is suffering too! These conditions are as ubiquitous as the air.
One condition is the nature of “work”. Without even counting the many people who live with hate-filled emotionally abusive workplaces, and those where they know that their “products” are actually causing destruction, even many of those people with “good jobs” are deeply out of balance from their work experience. We have forgotten that life can be, is meant to be, inherently meaningful and connected. And yet a large majority of people are not actually connected to the “products” and services they create/transfer/sell. We sell things and services we do not personally create or offer, and may not in any way feel connected to. We provide things and services to other people we don’t know and probably do not care about. This leaves us empty.
Time pressure and “professionalism” often keep people from having/enjoying meaningful relationships at work. I work in a non-profit business that does excellent things in the world, around a number of really good people, and yet it is rare that we actually have and take the time to hear and understand what our co-workers are experiencing and feeling at work, unless their is some type of personal crisis.
The result of this is that most people go home disconnected and unfulfilled. They hunger for intimacy, space, true relaxation, and meaning. And yet they have only a few hours, not at full energy, to accomplish all the tasks of taking care of themselves and existing in the modern world. It becomes a treadmill where we never catch up, and live for a few hours on the weekend or wait for our yearly vacation tp actually feel good.
People go to work to make “money” which is supposed to give us the resources to survive in the world. But there is a deep inefficiency when people spend 30 or 40 or 50 hours a week doing “work” in an atmosphere that does not meet their essential social, emotional, and spiritual needs. And yet we are not outraged at this condition, because we are used to it, and everyone around us is in the same boat, or even worse, struggling on the edge of economic collapse, which has it’s own type of isolation.
Then we get home from “work” and we have the tasks of feeding ourselves, cleaning up, maintaining our space, maintaining our finances, maybe child care, pet care, etc. Also attempting to create the joy and fulfillment we miss from work by creating and maintaining projects and hobbies. And we are often duplicating the efforts of five households on our block alone. Everything we do requires effort and a unique skill set (and almost none if us is good at all of them) or to spend more money, which means we have to “work” even more.
Often times our intimate relationships are crushed by the expectations that they provide the love and passion we miss in the rest of our lives, and that we manage a complex and overwhelming set of tasks together attempting to succeed at all the tasks that modern life requires.
One aspect I want to emphasize – Many people come home from work both starving for intimacy and deeply wanting alone time from the flood of too many non-personal connections during the day. At one point I worked as a checker in a “hip” grocery store, and went home from work lonely after having hundreds of human connections, almost none of which lasted longer than 20 seconds.
In our culture, especially at work, and in the process of “buying” things. We are inundated with non-personal interactions with people.
There are many other areas I could go into, but you can see how our lives feel stressful, overwhelming, hard.
So what is the answer? The answer could be to work less, live simply, and choose work that is more meaningful. But our economy and specifically the nature of money means that many jobs, especially those that have the highest monetary compensation will be those that honor human needs and the needs of our environment the least.
A better and more practical answer is to live our lives, the way we give and receive our needs in the world, in a totally different way. To live in a cooperative sharing or tribal economy, where we share with and serve each other freely without a need of “money” being exchanged. This is the way “uncivilized” tribes lived. Each person contributed to the group good. Tasks were shared. Everyone was expected to contribute according to their skills. And when you were doing a task for another whether it was weaving a basket, growing food, or taking care of children, you were doing it for people whom you cared about and had a relationship with. And when your needs were met, it was done by people who you were connected to. Social life and “work” were not separate. When you live life this way, it is both more efficient getting things done, and not putting an unreasonable burden on any one person. And there is much less need for luxurious “goods” because we no longer need them to give us joy. We no longer need to make up for our emptiness “working” and “shopping” in the world. Much of our fulfillment comes from the daily process of living and providing for our basic needs while connecting with people we care about.
It may take a while to totally make this transformation, but we can start living in a sharing or tribal economy now. There are organizations in many towns across America who are beginning to do this. If you share my locality in Eugene, Oregon, I encourage you to join with us at Sharing Connection, as we are giving and receiving and growing in our ability to meet each other’s needs, with personal responsibility, but without money or accounting or “work” as we have thought of it.