In the culture of the United States of America, we have internalized a belief that to work is a moral virtue, and those who do not work are deficient in morality unless they have a reason considered acceptable by the dominant culture, such as retirement or a disability incurred by accident or in the course of doing one’s job. At the same time, we love and embrace technological advancements that increasingly render the kinds of work available to us obsolete while outsourcing other forms of labor, narrowing the field of work opportunities to tech fields, service labor, or middle management. We once had a vision of the future in which machines did most of the labor for us, freeing us up for family, leisure, creativity, research, passion, or contemplative pursuits. Instead we demean people who value those things over work and productivity as lazy or immoral and, on the average, have made ourselves busier than ever, more distracted, hustling harder and harder to do what Professor David Graber calls “Bullshit Jobs.”
The value of a person is intrinsic, it does not need to be justified by measurements according to use, money, productivity, or social worth.
Rivers, mountains, forests, and animals might also be considered persons with intrinsic value.
If we start with this foundation, then perhaps our economics and styles of relationship will shift. We no longer have the green light to exploit and pollute wherever we feel like it. We act with the knowledge that our actions cause harm to other beings—it’s unavoidable, it is a part of being a living creature–but as conscious beings we are accountable to the damage we cause. We cannot treat each other as objects to be used and thrown away. We cannot allow ourselves to be treated as objects to be used and thrown away.
Depression, despair, and anxiety might be telling you that the way you’re living your life isn’t lining up with your deepest values. Your anger might be telling you there is real injustice that you want to push against, though you might not recognize exactly where it is at first.
Letting yourself be bled to death and postponing the activities that give your life meaning is not a moral act, even if done for ostensibly noble reasons.
We can have lives of loving responsibility to those we care about while also following the truth of the heart. The trick is to give up our ideas about what these things are supposed to look like. The mind’s predictions are at best weather predictions–helpful for planning purposes, but then you might as well throw them away. If you’re out in the rain but insisting that it was supposed to be a sunny day, you’re not allowing yourself to be responsive to what is happening. You lose the chance to stay dry or simply enjoy the rain.
Guilt and shame are great for social control but terrible for growth and intimacy. When I’m feeling shamed by someone else, then usually I feel angry, defensive, or start wallowing in self-pity and self-abasement. I rarely think, “Oh, that’s a good point, I’ll try to change my behavior.”