I get schooled on “work as punishment”

I recently wrote a blog post about the ancient and prevailing attitude, that work is a punishment. Typically, work is not seen as something you do because you like it, but something you have to do to survive.

This prompted a great email from H? Châu, who thought my post did not apply to large parts of the world:

Is your “Work is punishment article” only for European readers? It repeats the same error in your book. Christianity not responsible for most work cultures. India, China, Korea, Japan (almost half planet) have their own cultural reasons for work too much. Muslims, another 1 billion people, have other reasons.

If you mean Europeans, please write Europeans. Other people have different culture motivations for hard work. This article does not apply to East Asia. KungFuZi and other people talk about hard work good for spirits and bodies of people. I not know about India/Hindustani culture motivation.

I hope Chinese/ZhongWen book translation will fix this error, otherwise this is not true for readers for that part of world, they will think that part of your great book is strange. One reason for many people/cultures, before modern time, farming requires much work for success and survival. Most people were farmers. This is one global reason many cultures tell people work a lot because very important during that time!

I like your great web site, it’s very good. The article for that Indian magazine was very good, and I liked the part about using their own culture and stop copying Europeans. I tell people to use ideas but recreate by a new local way, help create something new for everyone. ^-^

Xie xie for good work to help every one!

Thanks for that Châu. I agree completely, and that blog post (and the corresponding chapter in my first book) are indeed written from a Western perspective.

Also this comment from Andy corrects what I wrote about the Jewish approach to work.

I agree with the essential idea of the post. Just a theological point here. You write:

“According to Hebrew belief, work is a “curse devised by God explicitly to punish the disobedience and ingratitude of Adam and Eve.” The Old Testament itself supports work, not because there’s any joy in it, but because it is necessary to prevent poverty and destitution.”

I can’t speak for Christianity, because I’m not a Christian, and have never studied it in depth. But, being a Jew, and having studied the ancient Hebrew texts, I can say that this was NOT the attitude of the ancient rabbis. “(Rabbi) Shemayah says, ‘Love work’” (Chapters of the Fathers, 1:10). Unclear to me whether this quote predates, or is roughly concurrent with the time of Jesus; but it certainly predates Paul.

I think the basic attitude of Judaism is that the curse was in the fact that the basic needs were no longer supplied without work. But work itself–whether before or after the curse–was something to love, and to use to build the most meaningful life possible.

Thanks, Andy!

3 thoughts on “I get schooled on “work as punishment””

  1. I agree with both of these posters. The goal of “Happiness at Work” neccessarily includes “work.” You can’t be happy at work if you’re not work. The “curse” of work simply means, you have to work; it doesn’t mean you need to be miserable while you do it.

  2. Cross cultural studies have shown that where 50% of Japanese would characterize work as something you have to account for, only 12% of Israelis would say that this is an important character of work.
    Reversely only 10% of Japanese say that it is work if others profit from it where 34% of Israelis thought that way.
    34% of Belgians would say of work that it makes you feel as you belong with somebody, a statement that only 7% of Japanese agreed with.
    Now, these data may have changed over the years since the Meaning of Work study was conducted, but it illustrates H? Ch

  3. Colossians 3:23-24

    Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.

    Also the Old Testament speaks more about laziness than work as punishment.

    Not a good article IMO. You have confused work with slavery.

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