About a month ago, I was talking to a missionary in Ukraine about work ethics, or more precisely, about the reason for work. Why do we work? In the conversation, he mentioned an essay by Dorothy L. Sayers called “Why work?” To my shame, I had never heard of her before, but have since learned that she was a renowned English crime writer, playwright, essayist and a Christian. She lived from 1893 to 1957.
The particular essay entitled “Why work?” deals with society’s attitude towards work both before and during WWII. Anticipating the end of the war, Sayers appeals to much needed change in regards to how society at large perceives work and the worker. The essay is in the public domain and about 12 pages long. Rather than reviewing it in depth, I will be sharing my favorite quotes. I do, however, recommend this essay to anyone who wants to develop a good / Christan work ethic. So without further ado: Dorothy L Sayers
We have had to learn the bitter lesson that in all the world there are only two sources of real wealth: the fruit of the earth and the labor of men; and to estimate work not by the money it brings to the producer, but by the worth of the thing that is made.
The habit of thinking about work as something one does to make money is so ingrained in us that we can scarcely imagine what a revolutionary change it would be to think about it instead in terms of the work done. To do so would mean taking the attitude of mind we reserve for our unpaid work – our hobbies, our leisure interests, the things we make and do for pleasure – and making that the standard of all our judgments about things and people.
We should ask of an enterprise, not “will it pay?” but “is it good?”; of a man, not “what does he make?” but “what is his work worth?”; of goods, not “Can we induce people to buy them?” but “are they useful things well made?”; of employment, not “how much a week?” but “will it exercise my faculties to the utmost?”
Work is not, primarily, a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do. It is, or it should be, the full expression of the worker’s faculties, the thing in which he finds spiritual, mental and bodily satisfaction, and the medium in which he offers himself to God.
[A worker’s] satisfaction comes, in the godlike manner, from looking upon what he has made and finding it very good.
We should no longer think of work as something that we hastened to get through in order to enjoy our leisure; we should look on our leisure as the period of changed rhythm that refreshed us for the delightful purpose of getting on with our work.
The greatest insult which a commercial age has offered to the worker has been to rob him of all interest in the end product of the work and to force him to dedicate his life to making badly things which were not worth making.
It is the business of the Church to recognize that the secular vocation, as such, is sacred.
How can any one remain interested in a religion which seems to have no concern with nine-tenths of his life? The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays. What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables.
Let the Church see to it that the workers are Christian people and do their work well, as to God: then all the work will be Christian work, whether it is church embroidery, or sewage farming.
The end of the work will be decided by our religious outlook: as we are so we make. It is the business of religion to make us Christian people, and then our work will naturally be turned to Christian ends, because our work is the expression of ourselves.