Happy Thursday, loyal readers. Thank you very much for being here. Today’s issue focuses on the role of work in our lives. All of us want to be of use, to be in service of others, and to do good work in the world. But the pandemic – all 19 months of it so far – has challenged us to reconsider our th
Happy Thursday, loyal readers. Thank you very much for being here.
Today’s issue focuses on the role of work in our lives. All of us want to be of use, to be in service of others, and to do good work in the world. But the pandemic – all 19 months of it so far – has challenged us to reconsider our thinking. How much should our work define our identity? Do we really want a daily commute, or a physical office, or the expectation to answer emails around the clock and on weekends?
Over the past few years, my younger colleagues have taught me that no matter how much we find meaning in our work, our job is only one part of our lives. We are still performing labor in a capitalist system. There’s time to work, and there’s time to rest. (I’m an advanced rester.)
But as we get better at saying no to exploitative work, I’m concerned that we’re not saying no to the other part of the capitalist system: the desire for more stuff. We haven’t changed our minds as much about consumerism.
With those thoughts in mind, I’ve selected four well-written articles that I hope are worth your time and attention. My personal favorite is “Revolt of the NYC Delivery Workers,” an important, well-reported piece of journalism that hopefully sparks change. If you have more time, go back up to the top of the newsletter and check out the lead article, which traces the history of work in the United States and explains how we got here. And if you’re feeling lazy, read the piece on laziness, then dream about your next job by taking in the perspectives of those who have left theirs. Please enjoy!
Ever since the 1940s, we’ve been told that the way to get ahead in this country is to work hard, follow the rules, and be rewarded with a good job that offers a high wage, health insurance, and retirement benefits. This has been the dominant message, even though this version of the American dream has not been available to everyone.
Then the pandemic hit, and 4 million Americans left their jobs and said, “Enough is enough.” The Great Resignation has left many of us questioning the role of work in our lives. In this well-written article, Anna North explains how jobs got bad, how “workism” made things worse, and how many people are now decoupling their work from their worth.
Instead of fighting for a living wage and better working conditions, Ms. North suggests, maybe the answer is to work less, or to guarantee an income for all. “For now, it seems like a fairy tale — the idea that Americans could choose to work or not work based on their desire, rather than the threat of starvation. But maybe, in some ways, the pandemic has brought that fairy tale a little closer to reality.” (14 min)
Laziness is all the rage. Just ask Jenny Odell, author of How to Do Nothing, or Liao Zenghu, founder of the “lying flat” movement. The latest proponent is Devon Price, author of Laziness Does Not Exist. A social psychologist, Dr. Price argues that the “laziness lie” has marginalized the poor, homeless, unemployed, and disabled. But in this piece, James Greig argues that there are limits to Dr. Price’s suggestion that “you’re fine exactly the way you are.” He writes, “If I don’t lift a finger to help any kind of social cause, I’m surely complicit in the suffering of others.” (8 min)
Juan Solano doesn’t want to be called essential. Dignity is his goal. One of New York City’s 65,000 delivery workers, Mr. Solano is tired of being attacked at night, with thieves stealing his bike, police turning a blind eye, and lawmakers dilly-dallying on change. He wants a decent wage from DoorDash, a way to charge his electric bike, and a place to go to the bathroom. Mr. Solano is part of a growing group of workers fighting to protect themselves from danger and demanding respect in our inequitable economy. (34 min)
One way to protest low wages and unsatisfactory working conditions is to bow out completely. In this collection of first-person accounts, Bay Area restaurant workers Ana Sloan, Benjamin Ahn, Jacqueline, Daniel Lovett, Sasha Gaona, and Gray Nance share why they left their jobs. With owners skimping on salaries, and diners loathe to pay more for their meals, it’s no wonder the industry is facing a major labor shortage. (12 min)
: Loyal reader
, a school counselor in Mexico City, kindly wrote to share that last week’s article about men in college has sparked conversation and controversy among her colleagues. She offered two blog posts (here and here) by Jon Boeckenstedt, who questions the reporting after crunching the numbers on Tableau. Gena writes, “My favorite quote is from the second piece: ‘When the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times, and the Washington Post talk about “college” what they mean is private, highly rejective colleges in the northeastern part of the country.’ This does not represent the vast majority of colleges and universities, nor students’ experiences.” Gena, thank you very much for bringing this analysis to The Highlighter community. I appreciate how we continue reading together to get smarter.
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