Value of Labor as Vocation

Today is labor day and it is a holiday, rest day for some, while for others, a time to voice out their concerns on the street. This shows us a clear difference: those who enjoy the fruits of someone else’s labor and those whose fruits are not enough. If this tells us anything, it is that labor is seen as working for wages. In this age of consumerism, labor is a commodity; men are simply numbers, and statistics. As society have put a high value on wealth and financial success, labor lost its essence as a vocation or calling.

In a society that puts price on everything, more and more people will be inclined to find the fastest and easiest way make money without hard work since for them labor is just a means to an end. This kind of thinking gave rise to best-selling books like Rich Dad Poor Dad, The 4-day Work Week, business models like multi-level marketing, and even gave rise to Prosperity gospel and manifest philosophy.

Before I move, I just want to make it clear the I am not against being rich or the rich. Not even against income made from investments, an example of making money work for you (a rich dad poor dad principle) because investments promote private property, a Catholic principle, and investments are also necessary since they safeguard human dignity. And in most cases, the money that has been invested was a result of labor.

One of my heroes in business is Konosuke Matsushita, Japanese industrialist and founder of Panasonic. In one of his essays, he warns us on the effects of earning easy money as it takes away the value of hard work. This is in line with “wealth without work” principle, which Gandhi thinks is a “deadly sin” as it affects the man, and the society he is in. What they are against is the idea that there is such a short cut to making money as a result of labor as commodity.

In this modern age of easy money, hacks and short cuts, one needs not lose sight of the value of labor as vocation or calling which is higher than simply making a living for leisure and personal gains.

Labor is an essential part of human life as it makes good use of one’s natural talents, and not a necessary evil. Through one’s talents, one makes a living that can contribute to the well-being of their family and improvement of communities.

One learns to be excellent in small things as he is engaged in skilled and meaningful work that requires knowledge, experience, and creativity. Work then becomes a source of pride as one seeks to perfect his craft, recognizing that the quality of his work is a reflection of his own character and values.

Labor provides a deep sense of purpose and meaning as one recognizes that his labor has a direct impact on the well-being of those around him, and takes this responsibility seriously. The purpose and meaning adds to his dignity regardless of status and prestige of his work.

Labor also provides a sense of humility as one sees that his labor is meant as a service to others as he puts others before himself. Labor seen from the perspective of service can become a source of fulfillment.

Labor as vocation sounds so pious that it seems no successful person sees labor that way. Not for Matsushita. In his book “Not for Bread Alone,” Matsushita wrote: “Work is not just a means of making a living. It is a means of finding fulfillment and of contributing to the welfare of society.” Matsushita is a participant in the philosophy that labor is a vocation. He made use of his natural talents in electronics by founding one of the largest companies in the world. He excelled in the little things when he made a small improvement in bike lights, when he created a bike lamp with batteries that lasted longer than others that created a big impact on bicycle riders’ safety. Imagine that this is the 1920’s, a time when most bike lights used gas lamps. He didn’t mind the status or prestige of his job when he put up a small shop to be able to provide for his wife, and continued to work until it became big. He saw labor as a service rather than try to make money quick.

Today, also happens to be the feast day of St. Joseph the worker and I cannot help but mention how Matsushita reflects the qualities of St. Joseph the worker, a carpenter, who recognized the value of labor regardless of status, the importance of skills and talent, the responsibility of being a provider and putting others first.

Work for the sake of work, work seen as a commodity, leads man to look for ways to make easy money. Easy money may bring you wealth but it certainly doesn’t provide you with the fulfillment one gets from the physical and mental exertion that creates products and services that is meaningful, and purposeful when one see the value of labor as vocation.

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