A researcher at Edge Hill University, Liverpool ponders capitalism, workaholism and trust.
“…I don’t want to be a workaholic. I want to be happy. My work, though fulfilling in many ways is just one part of who I am, and I’m not yet happy…”
“I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone quite as passionate as you”. “You know I think your intellect might have something to do with it. I think people are intimidated by you”. These are both things people have said to me recently. One by a former colleague. Another by a perfect stranger. They are both in their own ways quite flattering statements, yet I never fail to respond in my usual apologetic ‘I’m-sorry-for-being-me’ kind of way..
“Am I really? I don’t mean to be…”
When I think of a typical ‘workaholic’, I conjure the stereotype of the high flyer, the money-maker. I can’t help but associate it with the kind of right wing, individualistic ideology that I have such a strong aversion to, and with the kind of person who craves power, esteem and the admiration of others. Perhaps that’s my own prejudice, and I’m the one who is closed-minded but I can’t help it. The very word ‘careerist’ makes me want to be sick in my mouth just a little bit, and so I struggle to accept that I might be one of them.
That being said, I can’t deny that I am driven, enthusiastic, passionate, a perfectionist, a high achiever, often stubborn, determined, hard-headed, even a little selfish at times… and these are traits shared by some of the most powerful and successful people in society. However, I have a real problem with associating myself with this kind of person. Why? Because it in every way contradicts what I want for myself and others, and undermines the reason why I work so hard in the first place: for social justice, for societal well-being, for the happiness of others, for collective empowerment, and yes… for community. As long as we live in a society that values these individualistic traits above all else, we will always live in a society which champions individual success over collective success. This kind of society is built upon the labours of others propping up privilege and a somewhat Darwinian notion that the strongest will make it because they’re better, and the weakest are where they are because they are not good enough.
I have worked in the further education system for a number of years and at times it seems that I’ve spent my professional life with people who don’t fit the mould that capitalism has created, and struggle to find their place in a society that has excluded them. I would argue not because they lack potential, but often because their potential is bigger than that, and simply undervalued. There is no effective mechanism for helping them to express themselves and realise what they want (and need) in order to feel personal freedom in their own lives, and you know what? I’m tired. I’m really tired. I’m tired of fighting the fires, of picking up the pieces, of drying the tears. I’m tired of the sticking plaster approach. In a nutshell, I am so over neo-liberalism.
Yet in order to fully understand my position I know I have to accept that this is part of my make-up. I. am. a. worka…worka…a…a…HOLIC… there, I said it. Sort of.
The thing is, I don’t want to be a workaholic. I want to be happy. My work, though fulfilling in many ways is just one part of who I am, and I’m not yet happy in its fullest sense. I’m good at my work because I love people. I’m caring, compassionate, empathic, open, enjoy bringing happiness to others, have a wicked sense of humour (and for that I won’t apologise. I’m hilarious). These are traits I can identify with, and that I want to be associated with, because these are traits that build successful communities and help people to realise their potential (free from any narrow-minded constraints of what constitutes ‘the fulfilling of potential’, of course). This is precisely what is missing from my life, and the effects upon my health and wellbeing are evident.. There are times that I can be insecure, anxious, scared, sensitive, self-doubting… on a fundamental level, I have needs that are not being met by the life I currently lead and yet this is what I’m trying to achieve for other people on a daily basis. Ironic, no? But I don’t think I’m the only one by a long chalk.
My people skills might all be well and good, but it seems that as far as society is concerned they just aren’t sexy. I don’t believe we will ever be able to build a society that acknowledges the importance of relationships, our responsibility to care for one another. The kind of society that encourages us to trust in each other, to empower each other and to share skills and resources (I also think there is a link here between what is valued, and the perceived value of women in society… but that’s for another blog.. Towards Feminism?). UNLESS we get over the fact that productivity is not the sole purpose of a human being, and money is not really what makes us happy. It is an endlessly perplexing phenomena to me that we work toward an ideal that does not cater for our wellbeing, and in many ways damages it: “It is an eternal and unhappy spiral that goes by the name of Capitalism, and it’s really quite popular” (cited in ‘The Humans’ by Matt Haig). It is an ideology that strengthens individualism, divides communities, increases inequality and undermines our health and happiness.
In Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s highly acclaimed work on inequality, “The Spirit Level”, they demonstrate with substantial evidence the detrimental effects that unequal societies have upon our ability to trust one another and to be cooperative. This has serious implications for our physical and emotional health, which depends upon having a sense of purpose, on opportunities to give and to share and to be socially connected to others. Capitalism and the materialism it fuels is corrosive to these fundamental human needs. Building upon research I will be commencing for my PhD programme, in Part II I will be focusing increasingly upon the notion of trust, and its place in forging strong community connections: giving us a sense of security, freedom and purpose in the health and wellbeing of all. If I must be a workaholic, I guess I may as well be a useful one!
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