Working for the joy of it?

January 10th, 2017
by Chris

A few weeks ago I wrote a post which touched on working, and my need for it to be useful in some sense (while in general complaining about the general assumption that the value of everything is measured in money). Today, I find an article on Intrinsic Motivation, which I strongly recommend.

It certainly reinforces my general thesis; there is a disconnect between what makes us want to do things and the money we may gain as a result. I’m actually in the relatively happy position, being retired from my original main occupation, of being able to do pretty much what I want to; I don’t have to get income from what I do. However, as the earlier post says, I do need to feel that it’s useful, and to some extent that ends up having to be measured in money. In effect, it puts me in the position of someone who receives what I would dearly like to see instituted in my society, an universal basic income.

Some years ago I analysed how I approached something which looked as if it needed doing. My first question was “Does it really need doing?”. If yes, there followed “Is someone already doing it?”, and then, if no “Is this something I could do?”, with the subsets of “Do I have time to do it?” and “Is there something more important which I should be doing?”.

If the task survived those steps, I considered it to be “my responsibility” to at least some extent – but I was frequently frustrated by the “Can I get paid for doing it?” which, of course, interacted with “do I have time?” and “is there something more important?” – having to make money in order to live frequently meant that I didn’t have time because there was something more important, namely keeping myself and my family fed, clothed and housed. I don’t have that frustration these days; instead my biggest frustration is that there’s a huge swathe of things I could once have done but now can’t, because I’ve got older, sicker, weaker and more prone to exhaustion than used to be the case.

“Is this something I could do?” is more multifaceted than might originally meet the eye, and not just because of age and disability; the first issue is whether it is something I could do well (if I couldn’t do it well, I’d prefer it to be done by someone who could do it well), and into that plays the question “could I enjoy doing it?”, because unless I could, I would be much less likely to do it well. As it happens, I’ve found that I can enjoy to some extent even the mindless mechanical and repetitive tasks which efficiency experts have historically wanted to divide labour into (which the article dwells on) – I can manage a form of working meditation in such circumstances without prejudicing my performance – but that may be a peculiarity of mine. (If you find this hard to accept, consider rosaries or other forms of prayer beads or the chanting of mantras as examples of such tasks…) Generally, however, I think that work which doesn’t engage the mind and which can’t be done well or badly, it can only be done or not done, though perhaps slower or quicker, is something best left to robots – and, of course, it increasingly is being left to robots.

So, to quote the article, “Now imagine for a moment that we were to reorganize the modern workplace to be keyed to everybody‚Äôs intrinsic motivation. It would mean an incredible revolution. CEOs would slave away out of faith in their companies, academics would burn the midnight oil out of pure curiosity, teachers would teach because they feel a duty to their pupils, psychologists would treat only as long as their clients require, and bankers would take pride simply in the services they render. Skill and competence would be treasured, instead of yields and productivity.”

One can but hope…

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