What makes the prospect of death distinctive in the modern age is the background of permanent technological and sociological revolution against which it is set, and which serves to strip us of any possible faith in the permanence of our labours. Our ancestors could believe that their achievements had a chance of bearing up against the flow of events. We know time to be a hurricane. Our buildings, our sense of style, our ideas, all of these will soon enough be anachronisms, and the machines in which we now take inordinate pride will seem no less bathetic than Yorick's skull.
Partially undermining the manufacturer's ability to assert that its work constituted a meaningful contribution to mankind was the frivolous way in which it went about marketing its products. Grief was the only rational response to the news that an employee had spent three months devising a supermarket promotion based on an offer of free stickers of cartoon characters called the Fimbles. Why had the grown-ups so churlishly abdicated their responsibilities? Were there not more important ambitions to be met before Death showed himself on the horizon in his hooded black cloak, his scythe slung over his shoulder?
However powerful our technology and complex our corporations, the most remarkable feature of the modern working world may in the end be internal, consisting in an aspect of our mentalities: in the widely held belief that our work should make us happy. All societies have had work at their centre; ours is the first to suggest that it could be something more than a punishment or a penance. Ours is the first to imply that we should seek to work even in the absence of a financial imperative.
.. Workplace dynamics are no less complicated or unexpectedly intense than family relations, with only the added difficulty that whereas families are at least well-recognised and sanctioned loci for hysteria reminiscent of scenes from Medea, office life typically proceeds behind a mask of shallow cheerfulness, leaving workers grievously unprepared to handle the fury and sadness continually aroused by their colleagues.
After Carol had left, as Symons threw away a pile of used tissues and rearranged the cushions on the couch, he remarked that the most common and unhelpful illusion plaguing those who came to see him [as a career counselor] was the idea that they ought somehow, in the normal course of events, to have intuited--long before they had finished their degrees, started families, bought houses and risen to the top of law firms--what they should properly be doing with their lives. They were tormented by a residual notion of having through some error or stupidity on their part missed out on their true 'calling.
When does a job feel meaningful? Whenever it allows us to generate delight or reduce suffering in others. Though we are often taught to think of ourselves as inherently selfish, the longing to act meaningfully in our work seems just as stubborn a part of our make-up as our appetite for status or money. It is because we are meaning-focused animals rather than simply materialistic ones that we can reasonably contemplate surrendering security for a career helping to bring drinking water to rural Malawi or might quit a job in consumer goods for one in cardiac nursing, aware that when it comes to improving the human condition a well-controlled defibrillator has the edge over even the finest biscuit. But we should be wary of restricting the idea of meaningful work too tightly, of focusing only on the doctors, the nuns of Kolkata or the Old Masters. There can be less exalted ways to contribute to the furtherance of the collective good. An endeavor endowed with meaning may appear meaningful only when it proceeds briskly in the hands of a restricted number of actors and therefore where particular workers can make an imaginative connection between what they have done with their working days and their impact upon others.
Our exertions generally find no enduring physical correlatives. We are diluted in gigantic intangible collective projects, which leave us wondering what we did last year and, more profoundly, where we have gone and quite what we have amounted to.. How different everything is for the craftsman who.. Can step back at the end of a day or lifetime and point to an object--whether a square of canvas, a chair or a clay jug--and see it as a stable repository of his skills and an accurate record of his years, and hence feel collected together in one place, rather than strung out across projects which long ago evaporated into nothing one could hold or see.
Onszelf beschouwen als het middelpunt van het heelal, de huidige tijd als het hoogtepunt van de geschiedenis en onze geplande vergaderingen als gebeurtenissen van het grootst mogelijke gewicht, voorbijgaan aan de lessen die begraafplaatsen ons leren, slechts nu en dan een boek lezen, de druk van deadlines voelen, tegen collega's snauwen, ons door conferentieroosters heen werken met vermeldingen als: '11.00 uur tot 11.15 uur: koffiepauze', ons inhalig en zonder scrupules gedragen en ten slotte opbranden in de strijd - misschien is dit alles uiteindelijk de wijsheid die ons werk ons te bieden heeft.
The challenge lies in knowing how to bring this sort of day to a close. His mind has been wound to a pitch of concentration by the interactions of the office. Now there are only silence and the flashing of the unset clock on the microwave. He feels as if he had been playing a computer game which remorselessly tested his reflexes, only to have its plug suddenly pulled from the wall. He is impatient and restless, but simultaneously exhausted and fragile. He is in no state to engage with anything significant. It is of course impossible to read, for a sincere book would demand not only time, but also a clear emotional lawn around the text in which associations and anxieties could emerge and be disentangled. He will perhaps only ever do one thing well in his life. For this particular combination of tiredness and nervous energy, the sole workable solution is wine. Office civilisation could not be feasible without the hard take-offs and landings effected by coffee and alcohol.