Changing how we define Work By Grace Lee Boggs


Changing how we define Work

By Grace Lee Boggs

Michigan Citizen,  Sept.25-Oct. 1, 2011

Matthew Fox has captured the mission of our 2011 ReImagining Work gathering in his 1995 book The Re-Invention of Work.

“Today close to one billion human beings are out of work. In the U.S. alone more people are unemployed than at any time since the Depression…Of those who are employed, some work in jobs that are inimical to the health of our species and the planet, such as tearing down rain forests, killing endangered animals, selling drugs, or making armaments.

“Some politicians, looking for a quick fix, shout that we need Jobs! Jobs! Jobs! But such simplistic slogans… avoid the deeper questions that must be asked of Work at this critical juncture in human and Earth history… .The planet has only eighteen years remaining unless human beings change their ways.

“Under the pressure of the world economic crunch that is creating a worldwide depression, the grave danger looms that we will seek only Jobs! Jobs! at any price—- and ignore the deeper questions of Work such as how, why, and for whom we do our Work.

“We dare not miss the truly radical and creative moment in which we live— one in which we are being asked to redefine Work itself.

“There have been other momentous shifts such as this in human history. Consider the industrial revolution two hundred years ago or the agricultural revolution ten thousand years ago.

“Until the agricultural revolution the basic work of the human species was hunting and gathering; with agriculture it became cultivating crops and breeding animals.

“With the industrial revolution Work itself was revolutionized. It moved from farm to city, from making clothes and growing food to buying clothes and buying food. Humans changed from producers to consumers. Our models and ideals of work became factory oriented; the worker became an assistant to a machine.

“This idea was reinforced by the prevailing cosmology of Newton, namely, that our universe is a machine. Descartes reinforced his idea by teaching that our bodies and machines are machines as well.
  In the Newtonian era, real labor meant making things by machine or fixing them by machine. In the twentieth century, this symbol was domesticated in the automobile… War became the ultimate machine in motion, and machinery became the engine that ran our economic systems and political rhetoric…

“Today this paradigm is undergoing radical re-evaluation. The system is not working. That is how a paradigm shift begins: the established way of seeing the world no longer functions. the workmachine is running out of steam, coming to an end, even in the so-called First World. The basics of human living, including work, health care, politics, education, and religion, are increasingly beyond our grasp. And so a new era is upon us.

“We are being challenged today— in light of the wounded Earth, the one billion unemployed adults, the billions of despairing young people, who see no guarantees of either work or jobs, and the needs of other species around us—- to redefine Work. Our times need what the Bible calls metamoia, a change of heart, a change of ways….

  “Changing our ways includes changing the way we define Work, the way we compensate Work, the ways we create Work, and the way we let go of Work and learn to infuse it with play and ritual.

“We should not allow ourselves to be deceived that today’s crisis in Jobs is just about Jobs; it is not. The Job crisis is a symptom of something much deeper: a crisis in our relationship to Work and the challenge put to our species today to reinvent it.

“We must learn to speak of the difference between a Job and Work. We may be forced to take a Job serving food at a fast-food place for $4.25 an hour in order to pay our bills, but Work is something else. Work comes from inside out; work is an expression of our soul, our inner being. It is unique to the individual; it is creative. Work is an expression of the Spirit at work in the world through us. Work is that which puts us in touch with others, not so much at the level of personal interaction, but at the level of service in the community.

“Work is not just about getting paid. Indeed, so much Work in our culture is not paid at all, for example, raising children, cooking meals at home, organizing youth activities, singing in the choir, repairing one’s home, cleaning up one’s neighborhood, listening to a neighbor or friend who has undergone trauma, tending a garden, planting trees, or creating rituals that heal and celebrate.

“And yet, in a fuller critique of Work, the question needs to be asked: How might these examples of good work be rewarded so that they re indeed counted in our understanding of the gross national product (GNP)? “                 


                         Oct. 28-30  Focus Hope, 1400 Oakman Blvd. Detroit 48238


Discover how your neighbors are Re-inventing Work and Building Community.

Join conversations with Gar Alperovitz,, Vandana Shiva and many others.


  1. So exquisitely true. I see the Occupy and 99% movement as the force at the edge of people awakening to understanding. Perhaps we will achieve some useful wisdom by gathering this winter in the streets.

  1. 1 flip flopping joy » Blog Archive » movement: rust belt style

    […] as we’ve been taught to understand it is really much of an answer. As renowned Detroit thinker, Grace Lee Boggs notes: “With the industrial revolution Work itself was revolutionized. It moved from farm to city, from […]

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