My wife and I actually went away for the weekend this past weekend. With the exception of our honeymoon four years ago, this was the first time we had been away together (other than to visit family) in the seven and one half years we have been together. We have taken other trips, but always with an agenda – visiting family, attending a conference, and similar things. After this trip, I have come to the conclusion that the experts are right – we work too much. If you doubt that, just Google “American work hours” and check out the figures.
We take pride in how hard we work, and I suppose that isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but it is taking a terrible toll on us. Statistics also reveal that we are sleep deprived. Aside from the physical toll this takes on all of us, there is a relational impact as well. I can’t help but wonder what the impact of our work habits is on our children, our marriages, even on our availability to establish and maintain friendships. I suppose you could make the argument that such sacrifices were worth the benefit gained, but I am a little hard pressed to identify the benefit. A little nicer car, a little bigger house, status, prestige…I am not at all convinced that any of these are worth the price of increased isolation from other human beings – especially those we claim to love!
I clearly remember never seeing my father through my middle and high school years. He left early for work and came home late, and when he got home he crawled into a bottle. For him, and I suspect he is far from alone in this, the place he got validated was at the office, so it really wasn’t about the money as much as it was the validation. That kind of thinking is a self fulfilling prophecy, however. If you are never home, it is more than a little absurd to imagine you will get much validation there.
As a culture, our solution to way too many of life’s problems is to work more. Depressed? Work more. Economic downturn? Work more. Got a tax refund? Spend it right away, then work more. The problem is that things will not keep you warm at night (with the possible exception of an electric blanket). Things will not care for you as you age. Lonely people are never made less lonely by sitting among their possessions.
We need to reclaim an ancient monastic value – simplicity of life. I’m not saying that we all need to sleep on a mat on the floor and eat sparse vegetarian meals twice a day. I am saying that we have lost all sense of perspective. Every small step we take to live just a bit more simply potentially frees us to spend time with those we claim we care about. That will make us more human, not less.
Of course, we won’t make quite as much money. If we eliminate a few of our luxuries, however, we won’t notice the loss. In fact, if we succeed in eliminating some of our unnecessary expenses (and please, if you make more than $25,000 a year don’t tell me that you don’t have unnecessary expenses) we will find that we are able to take the occasional weekend vacation with those we claim we care about.
Imagine that impact that would have on families! One of the things that I find a bit incongruent is the “family values” folks who preach a “spend, spend, spend” outlook. If you really believed in families, you wouldn’t encourage indebtedness. If you really believed in families you would work for labor laws that allow people to earn a living wage working a 40 hour week and outlawed mandatory overtime. As part of those laws, you would also mandate paid vacation. The naysayers will cry that this would negatively impact the economy – but if we are living more simply that threat simply won’t work. The truth is, either we care about people and their families or we care about filling our own pockets at their expense. You simply cannot have that one both ways.
So what’s it going to be?