There is a working class — strong and happy — among both rich and poor: there is an idle class — weak, wicked, and miserable — among both rich and poor.
John Ruskin

In some moods there are few things more irritating than a panegyric of work and a denunciation of idleness; for to workers it seems like beating the air so far as they are concerned. They are inclined to think that those who speak most eloquently in praise of work, as if labor were a luxury, are usually people who know little of its burden. Still there is no subject which has more right to be considered, since there is no single subject which fills so large a space in the lives of most.

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Work concepts

We may object that we have no choice in the matter, and no need for encouragement or reproof. We at least have the spur of necessity, which would soon prick our side if we tried to dispense with what is our lot. It might seem also as if it could be said with some truth that idleness is not a very glaring fault of a race, that a country compared with some others is a perfect hive of industry, and that many among people suffer from overwork rather than under-work. It may be worth while considering the subject, though all this be true, and though people can be even desperately industrious; for is it not the case that the false and foolish standard is set up in society which almost looks upon it as a disgrace to work, or at least makes idleness an ideal? If one searches for it one may find it in some corner of a person's own heart. Many work hard with little thought either of the nobility or the meaning of work, but only to get rich so that some fine day they too may be able to be idle. In spite of people's activities they may hanker after what they conceive to be the paradise of idleness.

The ultimate ambition in one's minds is to be freed from the necessity of work, as if work and not idleness is humanity's lot. It might also seem as if it were the evil. They do not value work for its own sake, but think of it as a disagreeable necessity. The common social ideal is certainly a life of ease and pleasure, not a life of work and service. Society among people seems to be carefully graded in inverse proportion according to the amount of leisure enjoyed. We know how "Society" looks down on trade and business, the industry which alone makes it possible for them to live at all; and as for manual labor, that is another hemisphere! If people do value business, it is for its returns, its profits, not for the honest employment which trains body and mind and develops personal character. This is not just the ignorant contempt of a select class; it has permeated all classes, so that to climb the social ladder means getting rid of work.

Though, prosperity is the natural reward of industry. This is true of peoples as well as of individuals. The prosperous nations are those with the fewest slack hands. It is in keeping with the great natural law which has ordained work for life. The Earth bring forth fruit of herself while man sleeps and rises, but before that there must have been the preparatory toil, ploughing, sowing, and weeding; and when nature has done all there must still be labor, the labor of harvest, reaping, and gathering, and winnowing. Nothing thrives in the sluggard's garden. If a man will do nothing for his farm, his farm will do nothing for him. Human life and the whole order of society are maintained by labor, and those who will not work have no real place in the social scheme. The world's means of subsistence is won by labor, and life without some sort of service in it can only be classed as parasitic. Willful and persistent idleness puts a man outside of the plan of campaign. To prophesy reward for industry is not just to state a low form of prudential morality; it is to state a fact on which the very world is built. The wise man works; and the true worker uses all his faculties of mind.

Further reading

Portions taken from the public domain material: Hugh Black (1904), "Work", F. H. Revell company.

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