In defence of work
Roderick Benns is the publisher of The Advocate. An award-winning author and journalist who grew up in Lindsay, he has written several books including Basic Income: How a Canadian Movement Could Change the World.
In North American society – especially within the middle class – we typically define ourselves by what we do.
After meeting someone socially it’s almost always the first question on the tip of our tongues: “So, what do you do?” (We don’t even have to say “for a living” because culturally and contextually, our meaning is clear.)
My grandfather worked as a lumberman. My mother worked in a retirement residence’s kitchen. My close friend is a paramedic (and now paramedic chief.)
Elon Musk and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak recently sat down for an hour to talk about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the future of work. Musk claimed that “no job is needed” in the future since AI will be able to do everything for us. He says the only reason people will have a job in the future is for “personal satisfaction.”
“I think we are seeing the most disruptive force in history here,” Musk said, and that “there will come a point where no job is needed.” In other words, we will be looking for other ways to find meaning in life.
However, the British PM disagreed with Munk, saying: “I am someone who believes work gives you meaning.”
I believe both men are right but for now will side with Sunak. That’s because at this moment in time it’s difficult to picture a world where the entire economic system would have to be altered to accommodate a workless society. Basic income would be a start, but (for me) that always was the basis for people having more choice. I have always seen it as a springboard which people could use to feel more comfortable, as they transitioned into more fulfilling career opportunities, without fear of poverty in between.
A purposeful life is generally a happy life. It doesn’t mean we must find only one purpose. Today’s average younger worker will invariably change careers several times compared to workers of previous generations. But the point is to find meaning in what we choose to do.
Ideally, we do this forever. The dream of retiring from the world of work must surely be replaced with a new purpose. Whether that’s volunteering, a side hustle that keeps us connected with others, or lots of family time, if desired.
As The Walrus magazine noted in its most recent issue, shortened life expectancy can be predicted by a lack of purpose.
A meta-analysis from 2010 combined research from 148 studies involving hundreds of thousands of people to show that social connection and purpose increased survival rates by 50 per cent.
So, what do you do? It doesn’t have to be world-changing but ideally it brings you joy or purpose.