This labor day, I want to reflect on the Dignity of Work, one of the core principles of Catholic Social Teaching. When people talk about employment justice, I notice a lot of talk about the rights to earn just wages and to form unions. While these are certainly critical pieces to Dignity of Work, there are more pieces to the puzzle. Our employers are not the only ones who are responsible; we as workers should also strive to find dignity in our jobs.
How do you find dignity in your work? When working in a minimum wage job, I sometimes feel undignified—not because I am earning just above minimum wage, but because I feel like the work is meaningless in the big picture. But I am wrong to see any job as meaningless. I can find meaning in any work I do. It’s all about my attitude.
On my lunch break from the candy store where I worked this summer, I started reading Kahlil Gibran’s masterpiece of philosophical prose poetry, The Prophet. Truthfully I usually just eat my lunch and scroll through Facebook on my phone during my break, but my phone happened to be broken that day. So I read the fictional story in which a prophet shares his wisdom with the townspeople before moving on to another place. I got to the section where he spoke about work and I chuckled. How ironic to be reading this while at work!
What I read challenged me to adjust my perspective about working. He said,
All work is empty save when there is love, and when you work with love you bind yourself to yourself, and to one another, and to God. And what is to work with love? It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart, even as if your beloved were wear that cloth.
Whoa. How often do I forget to work with love in my heart!
We often refer to our ‘work lives’ as if that time were not a part of our actual lives. But we are alive when on the job. We cannot truly compartmentalize our lives. Our work lives are intertwined with the rest of our lives. Work is more than just something we do for money. As Christians, we are responsible to do God’s work in our workplaces. Sometime that can be as simple as showing love to coworkers and clients.
As Pope John Paul II wrote On Human Work:
Work is a good thing for man—a good thing for his humanity—because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfillment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes ‘more a human being.’
With the right attitude, we can find fulfillment and purpose in any job we find ourselves doing. All it takes is a little love and an eye on Christ.