When I first joined the workforce in the late sixties, a popular expression was “don’t work so hard -- take time to smell the roses.” The implication was that we’re in this life to enjoy ourselves and the world around us, not just to work and “get ahead.” Balance was a watchword.
Those among us with “Type A” personalities--the strivers and over-achievers--were admonished to slow down, take the time to relieve our stress by valuing enjoyment of nature or time to reflect and evaluate who we were and what we were doing.
Sadly, those days are over. It is now forbidden to “smell the roses.” Not in the sense of written public policy, but in the sense that there is no time available for America’s workers to have that luxury. It’s a fond memory for some, and a lost art for the rest.
We’re back to striving; at least giving the appearance of over-achieving. Why? So we can “move up” and do better than our parents’ generation, maybe even buy more stuff than our neighbors. That’s true happiness, isn’t it--when we have more possessions than the guy or gal next door?
Unfortunately, all this striving and hard work is useless. From our position as workers on the slide to slavery, we don’t have much choice about doing better, economically or socially, than previous generations or our neighbor.
You’ve heard the line “your diploma means you’ll get a better job and earn more income.” Well, that’s a fantasy statement. Economists, politicians and pundits easily cite statistics showing how, in past decades, workers with college degrees earned more than those with only high school diplomas. This implies that the diploma is the key to success.
What they don’t tell you is that a.) there are more workers available to fill fewer jobs, and b.) when you do get a job, the salary isn’t commensurate with your education.
Another fact of the workplace is that those who already have jobs are being forced to double their workloads. Corporations are not hiring more workers, they’re making present employees work harder and longer.
The engineers in Silicon Valley are being pressed by the big computer firms to take on more projects and turn them around more quickly. Nurses must attend to twice as many patients today as formerly. Even those working on the assembly lines are working longer and harder for stagnant wages. Then they’re thrown out when they become injured.
Further, there is no longer the economic or social mobility we once had in American society. Moving up may be a dream, but it’s not a reality. Our families are working two and three jobs just to make ends meet, pay off some credit, maybe buy an overpriced home. They’re not headed for Nob Hill anytime soon.
So what’s the answer? Some look to climate change as the occasion for choosing a new economic system. Others look to a new generation of workers to rise up and protest the system. Still others look to improved education for America’s electorate. Far fewer look to Congress.
How do we get off the slide to slavery and get time to smell the roses? Stop striving. Stop buying the messages of advertisers about what you should be and have. Think of education as learning how to think, not as a certificate that gives the right to work. Think of work as a way to get what you need to eat today, not a way of “moving up” or getting rich.
The so-called “American Dream” is an advertising ploy. Real work is pursuing values like peace, freedom, social responsibility and charity towards all. Whatever we need for today’s existence, will be there for us when we view education as a lifetime pursuit of truth and justice. Go for the roses, Baby!