Get a Job

Posted on March 2, 2014


This is not a Tea Party call to get a job and stop living off of welfare, entitlements, disability, unemployment, social security (heck I get a check), medicare, medicaid, and any other payment coming from the government.

“Get a Job” was a big song in 1957 released by the “The Silhouttes.” Its lyrics were typical doo-wop, not too deep. Read some of this song’s lyrics before you old timers pang without reservation for the “good old days.” They may have been old but, listening to “Get a Job” one has to stretch for good. It did have a catchy beat, kind of like rap, appealing to the primitive metronome in all of us I suppose.

Sha na na na, sha na na na na, [repeated lots of times]
Yip yip yip yip yip yip yip yip [ditto]
Mum mum mum mum mum mum
Get a job Sha na na na, sha na na na na
Every morning about this time
She get me out of my bed
A-crying get a job.
After breakfast, everyday,
She throws the want ads right my way
And never fails to say,
Get a job Sha na na na, sha na na na na

Alas, I don’t know if he ever got a job. Maybe he just didn’t want to work. So, why work or get a job?

Let’s say Uncle Bubba or Aunt Bessie Sue left you a million dollars. “I don’t have to work, I got a million dollars now.” Or maybe you won the Lotto. Same thing. I can live the good life now, whatever that is for you, hunting forever on your own land down by the river, or traveling to Florence to see the great art of the Renaissance, a nice retirement home along the golf course in Costa Rica, you name it.

Why work when you don’t have to? That woman in “Get a Job” was a real nag.

We work because it is part of our nature to work. To deny it in favor of leisure, idleness, or any other “not work” activity—whether by choice or circumstances beyond your control—is to set yourself apart from a God-given need to work. Now, don’t jump to the funnies and be scared off by the mention of God.

Work was a part of civilization and culture long before Christianity came on the scene, although it was given renewed emphasis by Christians living inside the Roman Empire, especially at the end as it edged towards corruption and decadence. Lots of eating grapes by the languid pools, sleeping around, banquets, watching the lions eat Christians during an afternoon of entertainment at the Coliseum.

But work, especially the noble work of the farmer, and to a lesser extent the herdsman, was esteemed in the ancient world, in Greece, in Judea, in the early Roman republic. To work was to both to fulfill the role given to us by God to “make a living” and, equally important, to contribute to the wellbeing of the whole.

In the civilizations of Greece and Rome, everyone worked, even the noble women of old, in spinning, weaving, and making the things for home and family while the men farmed, or, as civilization became more complex, engaged in crafts, as tradesmen, or, even the highest callings, warriors and governing the state. Some began to think that to govern and lead properly, those chosen to do so, by birth or ability, needed to separate to study, to reflect, to learn the arts, music, mathematics and philosophy, and so they enjoyed a certain freedom from common work. I think that attitude still reigns among some in Washington today.

But most, even as we moved into the time the Roman Empire, still considered the husbandman, the farmer, the highest calling. Thomas Jefferson thought so too, as the ancient ways filtered into our early Republican laws and values.

Work was in fact the crucible of civilization, and these values were reflected in Judeo-Christian theology and philosophy as well. The Apostle Paul worked at his trade of tentmaker throughout his ministry to the Gentiles.

As civilizations and cultures grew more complicated, especially in the modern period due to technology, industrialization, specializations and a host of other phenomenon, so did the work. It could mean everything from picking up someone else’s garbage to laboratory work on the human gnome.

In a way, however, we are more interdependent today than the Etruscan or Syrian or Galilean farmer of two or three thousand years ago. When I turn on my computer, I am linking to a chain of power sources far beyond my control, and certainly beyond my knowledge. The same with just anything I do, from turning the key to start my car to flying my little airplane. Heck, I even depend upon a food and seed supply chain to sell me my tomato plants which I then farm in my little vegetable garden happily, thinking often of Jefferson’s yeoman farmer as the linchpin of the great republican experiment.

Not to work is to diminish yourself in your own eyes and the eyes of others. When the Great Depression almost overwhelmed this country in the early 1930s, and tens of thousands and then millions of men couldn’t find work, it afflicted them and turned many despondent, and not a few to suicide. They had failed as providers. They wanted to work, but couldn’t.

Today prognosticators, sociologists of work, and others predict work will no longer be necessary in tomorrow’s societies. Robots already do it better and more efficiently, and while there will always be some need for labor, it will grow increasingly rare for everyone to be employed full time on something. We already have the four day week and the leisure business is booming in this country, from the casinos on the Gulf coast to the fleets of love boats ferrying pleasure seekers all over the world.

But I sense of deep longing among the millions on one side of the equation or the other: those who no longer have to work much, or at all, and those who can’t work because of circumstances like poor education, downturns in the economy, little training in skills, and so forth.

Work has become an option, not a necessity of life. It short circuits our wiring really to push aside, however we do it, the desire to work and produce and excel put in our spirits and our beings by God. This might be a most excellent challenge to our new politicians now rising to lead the nation, those set aside by training, disposition, education, learning, knowledge and wisdom to lead. Ask every politician looking for your vote: what are you doing to restore the dignity and satisfaction of having good work to do in the life of all people.

Get to Work published in my column, The Port Rail, in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday, March 9, 2014.