One of the things that a business can do is sustain the very notion of what work means. It can use its resources to uphold the meaning of work itself, and so its own meaning, and the meaning of the myriad of endeavours on which its participants spend the vital years of their lives.
Almost every culture has a large segment of people it has consigned, like the Moorlocks of HG Wells, to blind toil. Almost every society has attempted to convert a very large number of its own people or its neighbors into machines. Deep below the decks, slaving in the steam. Behind the wall in the cloth cutter’s shop, from dark to dark, in misery. Bought as children and given a tenuous thread to a painful existence in the stinking alleyways. Coopted as abandoned, widowed, or unprotected women and exploited, chained by the intentions of others to a vacant survival. Dashed hopes. Betrayed trusts. Pressed into jars like commodities. Nearly every culture still derives its prim face and proper makeup from the invisible suffering of slaves.
In my view, we owe. We owe even if we fancy ourselves ‘innocent’. We owe because the world is big, and somewhere someone is rinsing from a plate some sauce or gravy they will never afford to eat, and the act of that machine, that turning of their arms, over and over like a perpetual turbine, is holding up the system that allows me to sell anything to anyone. I owe. And so, i think, do the rest of us.
I also think we deny the meaning of what we do ourselves when we do not strive to secure meaning for the work of others. The indomitable humans in the chicken factories, isolated places of ofal and gore that we might complain to be down wind of – they are the tall people, and we become less human by the measure of our neglect, indifference, and unwillingness to discomfort ourselves to protect the meaning of work for all.
I’ve no one charity to point at; I’ve already pointed before to several – Global Giving for example. I’m willing to make unpopular statements and make them even less popular by not tying them to an easily dismissed passing of the offering plate. This is a blog about work. Not just about making a profit, tho that’s certainly a good idea. It’s a blog about work, and it is as much, for that, a blog about meaning. So I merely point out that the meaning of what we do is just theater, just a simulation, unless it compels and enables us to relieve the poor. If not for that, I have nothing else to say, and all work – yours and mine – is just arbitrary, inherently uninteresting, and frankly at best a form of narcissism. Sure, our families eat, but what does that really mean if families and their endeavours aren’t important in general?
Rule of work: Work is like fasting. It provides us something to give to the poor.