Finding work or creating work

Opinion Fr Oskar Wermter SJ

UNEMPLOYMENT is a painful subject to young people, for example, recent school leavers, but also their parents. They send their children to school and hope that learning will find them work, so that eventually they can create work for others.

Working (getting a job) is more than making money. It is simply part of our humanity. A person who refuses to work or is not given a chance to use his brain and to engage his heart, in building a work team, company, a workshop, studio, or laboratory, person whose hands never rest, is not fully realising his/her humanity.

A friend of mine worked all his life for the same company which had recognised his talents and send him to college to become an engineer. At the age of 58, he was told to retire. The promised pension was not bad. It enabled him to travel round the globe and see the world. But he was not happy. He missed his work, his colleagues, and the daily challenge to be a man of excellence. He felt like an amputee who had lost part of himself.

Very well-meaning people tell me to take it easy and retire from my daily toils. Actually, I don’t feel like that. When some years ago the “parking boys” in the city called me mudhara (old man, grand-dad), I was deeply shocked. I did not feel that old. And strangely enough, now that I am in my 70s, I still feel fit and ready to go back to my “workbench” (actually a laptop) and be busy with people, whether they are young or old, who need me (and whom I need too).

That big company told my friend that he had to leave in order to make room for younger people. He was unhappy and yet glad that some youngster would be given a chance. He remembered his own struggle, while trying to get a good workplace. A little while ago, I had a young friend who helped me now and then with computer issues. He was competent in information technology (IT), and yet still unemployed.

When I run into him these days, he tells me about his new life. At long last he became an apprentice in an IT company. He is happy and relaxed and full of stories about his new friends and colleagues. When I am stuck with a computer problem, he is still available and ready to show me what to do. The young who grew up in this computer age cope better than us oldies.

I know a six-year old little boy who gives computer advices to his father. Operating a little computer seems like child’s play to him, but he is quite serious about it. He is proud of his skills. From play he wants to graduate and be employed in the future.

You need a workplace to show what you can do. That is where we meet the competition and prove ourselves. I remember a girl who displayed a slogan right across her bosom: “What boys can do, girls can do better.” I am not sure if she actually frightened any boys. But she certainly had acquired self-confidence.

Once you have settled down in a profession and pursue a career, you know who you are, where your place in life is and what you can do, what you are good at and what seems rather a waste of time. You would have found your identity.

When I was still a college student, many of my colleagues found the going rather tough and dropped out. Some laughted at me when they heard about my choice. I had opted to work for the Church in Africa. I spent two years like a learner driver displaying an “L-plate”. I loved it, or rather “them”, the people I had come to know in Zimbabwe. I just wanted to live and work with them. Nothing else mattered. I knew where my future lay.

Work connects you with people. You work for the common good, for the family and community. You work hand-in-hand with colleagues and friends. You share knowledge and experience. The work of your hands and the novel and creative ideas from your brain are not your private property, but are to be shared with fellow workers and the public at large.

The material you handle comes from nature. The byproducts of the working process end up in rivers, lakes, on fields and in forests, they pollute the air and poison the water supply. The miner finds treasures in the bowels of the earth, the fisherman finds his treasures in the sea, wood for furniture and tools comes from forests where trees have grown to an enormous height. Some are hundreds of years old, each one to be respected like a wise old man or woman.

Is the skilled carpenter creative in his trade, but also destructive for forests and the landscape? Old abandoned mine shafts tell us about the labours of our ancestors. Riverbeds where women were once digging for gold nuggets still show the “wounds” the treasure hunt has left. Collapsed mine shafts have become tombs for miners who never saw the light of day again.

The biblical account of creation tells us that we should “subdue” the earth and have “dominion over it”. This has been misunderstood to mean we were free to exploit, maim and disfigure the beauty of creation. But the Creator told our first parents and still tells us, their children, “to cultivate and care for the earth” (Gen. 1: 28; 2: 15).

Everything on the “earth, our common home”, is precious and beautiful and worth to be cared for. Everything is connected with, and dependent on, everything else. There is a fine balance between all creatures. Bees are needed to pollinate flowers and trees.

Water is life. But if typhoons and cyclones get out of hand, “tsunamis” devastate islands and coastal regions. All creatures need water, and its availability is a matter of war and peace.

Temperatures that rise because of industrial smoke-stacks may cause the Antarctica and mountain glaciers to melt and raise sea levels dangerously. Water can also kill.

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