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Why Do Things The Hard Way? | KFP Articles
Why Do Things The Hard Way? PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 01 May 2013 20:39

That's the question I have been asked on a number of occasions and is at the front of my mind today, the first day of national bike month and the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker.  Some think and others will just say, you bike to work when you could ride, losing time, push a reel mower over two-thirds an acre when you could use a riding mower, and you grind coffee by hand when you can get a powered grinder. Comments such as these leave me wondering just how to explain my reasons for the lofi labor approach.  I take a different approach and most conversations don't allow for the needed explaination.  The reasons given by the modern mindset to justify work come from a very different mindset.  For example, whenever biking is promoted it seems to be presumed that the main justification is saving the environment.  Bike to work and save the planet - a most unachievable goal if I have ever heard one.  The other main justification given is improving your health.  Being environment friendly and getting in shape are good goals but it would behoove folks to look a little further than these very measured reasons to identify a reason not bound by calculation and utilitarianism.

Pope Francis can help us here.  He marked the Feast of St. Joseph with a reflection on the value of work that emphasized the rightful place of work in our lives.

“How many people worldwide are victims of this type of slavery, in which the person is at the service of his or her work, while work should offer a service to people so they may have dignity... Work is fundamental to the dignity of a person. Work, to use an image, 'anoints' us with dignity, fills us with dignity, makes us similar to God, who has worked and still works, who always acts; it gives us the ability to maintain ourselves, our family, to contribute to the growth of our nation.”

Before I give my reason for choosing "the hard way."  I would like to share a similar example.  In a post over at FPR, John Cuddeback comments on a similar experience with regard to cutting wood.  You see, John cuts his own wood to heat his house and some think that's a bad idea.

The situation recently came to a head when someone simply said to me: “What you’re doing is not economical.” Economical? My accuser proceeded: Why not just purchase the wood you need? Think about it John. Since you are a professional and your time is worth more per hour, you would be better off to pay someone else to do it for you—or in other words, buy the wood. Heck, since you’re a writer and lecturer, spend the hours writing and lecturing that you would have spent getting wood. You will come out ahead.

I really puzzled about this for a long time. It seems that here I have bumped up against an unquestioned, at times unconscious, assumption of many in our society: that money can be used as the most reliable standard for measuring and comparing activities—at least all those activities that are not obviously of a higher order, such as worship. But it seems to me that this assumption is dangerously flawed...If on the practical level ‘economical’ means arranging one’s affairs to maximize the earning and utilization of money with a minimum of work-input, then the project of heating my home from the wood of my forest is not economical.

Greek philosophers of the fifth and fourth century B.C. are the origin of the word economy. Oeconomia, literally the law (nomos) of the household (oecos), referred to a rational ability, also called an art, that arranges the various aspects or parts of household life. The word nomos, rather than meaning law in the proper sense here, more connotes an order. Some kind of order must be put into the home... But Aristotle stakes out a position regarding oeconomia that echoes down through the ages and reverberates in my ears: “household management attends more to men than to the acquisition of inanimate things, and to human excellence more than to the excellence of property which we call wealth."

The art of cutting one's own wood, biking and walking to our destinations and other forms of labor outside work have value that adheres to the person in an enduring fashion.  If Pope Francis is right, and I submit that he is, then the ordering of one's labor towards the family and local community is the greater good over and above the efficiency of the business world.  When I bike to work it gives a certain joy related to the fun of biking, fresh air, fitness benefit and beauty of the landscape but the real joy and lasting value is the work involved in bringing me closer to the community and its economy of relationships.  From a theological level it fosters virtues of humility and poverty.  We can ride big and fast to our destination or we can work hard by biking or walking, which is slower, but closer to the wonderful reality that we've been gifted. 

We can't all bike to our destinations or cut our own wood but we can prioritize work serving family and community over a life serving the economy of efficiency.  So, why do I bike to work?  Virtue.  Should I start giving that answer when asked about my reasons for biking to work? 


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