The dignity of labour

“There is benefit in every kind of hard work . . . ” -Proverbs 14:23.
A talented Nigerian musician, Adekunle Gold, in one of his popular songs entitled ‘WORK,’ encouraged people to work hard. This is in harmony with what God’s Word, the Bible, recommends at Ecclesiastes chapter 9, verse 10, where it says: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do with all your might . . . “
Work – whether paid or unpaid, is good for our health and well-being. It contributes to our happiness, helps us to build confidence and self-esteem, and can reward us financially. Work is an essential tool through which individuals can achieve their goals, flourish, and live happy, meaningful lives.

Work has different dimensions, such as work for making a living and work for developing one’s talent and potential. For example, a little girl in one of the corners of the world who goes to the kindergarten and learns how to count, draw, or write, is working. Likewise, an adult, who goes to his/her job every day, and gets paid for that, is also working. Thus, based on the age, circumstances, needs and desires of individuals, work, or labour, takes different shapes. 

Work is a virtue and necessity, which requires the utilization of time and energy. Man is in control of his time and energy when he voluntarily and constructively works. The Bible emphasizes the importance of work when it says, among other things, at 2 Thessalonians, chapter 3, verses 10 to 12 that: ” . . . if anyone does not want to work, neither let him eat. . . . ” This scripture condemns laziness. We need to work to make a living and provide for our families. Work provides the individual with the ability to be independent, to flourish, to develop, and most importantly, to find a meaning to life.

However, there are many problems seriously affecting work and workers in Nigeria today. These include: unemployment, poor remuneration/wages, poor working environment and conditions, casualization of workers, among others. Many people experience poverty and unemployment through no fault of their own. Many who are able to work, willing to work hard, and even actively searching for work, are still unable to find work – they are unemployed!

Unemployment and poverty are two of the major problems currently plaguing Nigeria’s economy and its society. Nevertheless, despite the high rate of unemployment and poverty, the situation is not necessarily hopeless. People can still find some meaningful work to engage in, even though it may be small. And, as another talented Nigerian musician, Sonnie Smyth, sang in his music video entitled: “NO WAHALA”: “No wahala, e go better, after today, I go see tomorrow o!” (You can download and watch this music video, “NO WAHALA,” performed by Sonnie Smyth and directed by Achor Yusuf, on YouTube).

If you are unemployed, or cannot find a job in your area of particular interest, it is wise to consider looking for a job in other areas, even if the job is considered ‘menial’ by the standards of some people. Do not allow false pride to let you look down on a job – as beneath your dignity. Any legitimate service that can benefit others, and that people are willing to pay for, can be considered as an alternative job opportunity when jobs are scarce. 

People differ in terms of many characteristics such as intelligence, talents, academic levels, etc. Therefore depending on human potential and the specific working environment, work can be equally beneficial to the person or demeaning. For example, prostitution, gambling, and drug dealing constitute work, as you get a kind of remuneration for the service you provide. But the money you get out of these kinds of work becomes useless, as it neither contributes to human flourishing, nor is the basis of a meaningful life. Work should be the key to human survival and flourishing, and not to degradation of the individual and his moral values.

On the other hand, no matter how honest, working from dawn to sunset does not make your life flourish either. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” goes the popular saying. Workaholics, the people whose only purpose in life is work, deprive themselves of the enjoyment of engaging in other activities. Productive work is not an end-in-itself, but a means of flourishing. If one pursues productive work to the exclusion of everything else in one’s life, so that it becomes one’s only purpose in life, this will undermine one’s flourishing. On the other hand, those who keep their life balanced are likely to enjoy their work even more.

So, whether your work is mostly mental, mostly physical, or somewhere in between, recognize that there is dignity in labour! Hard work helps us to care for our material needs. Moreover, it contributes to our self-respect, after all, hard work is just that – hard. When we discipline ourselves to stick with our work – even if it seems boring or difficult – we can have the satisfaction of knowing that we held ourselves to a high standard. We have won the victory over the inclination to take the easy way out. In that sense, work brings an intense feeling of satisfaction.

God wants us to enjoy the fruitage, or reward, of our hard work. His Word, the Bible says: “There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and find enjoyment in his hard work. This too, I have realized, is from the hand of the true God.” – Ecclesiastes 2:24.

Ighakpe writes fromFESTAC Town, Lagos via[email protected]; 0817 479 5742.