The Protestant Work Ethic…sigh.

I have to write about this as it has resurfaced in my mind as something to worry about. Am I lazy, or spending my energy in the right places? Am I at the top of the stress funnel, where as one feels increasingly pressurized, the temptation is to give up those things which seem less important but are actually those activities which are most nourishing?

It seems that the Protestant work ethic may be a descendant of the Calvinist idea of double predestination (source:

‘..only those who were predestined (cf. the Calvinist concept of double predestination) to be saved would be saved.

Since it was impossible to know who was predestined, the notion developed that it might be possible to discern that a person was elect (predestined) by observing their way of life. Hard work and frugality, as well as social success and wealth, were thought to be two important consequences of being one of the elect.’

I don’t earn much, and never have. I’m an artist and a musician, which both involve a lot of play and what looks like daydreaming. Are these signs I am somehow not worthy and am already destined for the hot place when I die? As a person recovering from depression, I already have the ability to drive myself very hard, that being one of the characteristics of the condition: putting in tons of effort in the wrong way, with very little to show for it as a result. What actually resulted was a sometimes distressingly over-active brain, and a feeling that however hard I try it will never be enough. It stifled my creativity, squashed my joy, strangled my instruments. I have only recovered the ability to feel joy in a process of letting go of an idea about flogging myself being next to godliness (should that have a capital G?). My violin has begun to sing again, and I am slowly finding my voice (with a little help from some friends: – and there are others, you know who you are). It’s been strange to discover that as I try less, I am unfolding and expanding, and discovering that I can be so much more than I was when I tried so hard.

The incidence of depression is on the rise in our society. Feelings of failure are a large part of that. Show me a depressed person and I’ll show you someone who thinks they’ve failed to reach their potential, let everyone down, but could be more if only they tried a bit harder. Then something broke. How can we root out that idea that you are only worth while if you work hard and earn lots? David Cameron could change his words for a start. I’m absolutely sick of hearing him go on about rewarding hard working families. Can’t we create a society where people could earn the means to live comfortably and still actually have some time to cultivate friendships, music, and space for reflection? Or is the goal to have everyone beavering away in offices all the hours God sends, for not quite enough to cover the rising costs of rent/mortgage, bills, food, childcare…

4 thoughts on “The Protestant Work Ethic…sigh.

  1. Oh Needle Book! Thank you for the recommendation and for this thoughtful blog. Today I reflected on what kind of education we need. We need to know what makes human beings happy and how to help one another get there. We need to nurture thinking about how to change the status-quo.

    We also need to be liberated from rent, mortgage and debt slavery. Music, art, philosophy, personal development, friendships, community and thought are time consuming past times. We could have time for all of these things with a different economy.

    Thank you for your stimulating blog, it is just what we need.

  2. So true. Maybe this ethic was a distortion of the instinct to stockpile for hard times – i.e. work harder and produce more than you currently need so that you/your community have a chance of surviving should disaster strike? If you don’t, you’re doomed; if you do, your community approves and values you.

    All very well if your overwork isn’t a threat in itself, and everyone acknowledges that entertainment and doing your own thing are valid, necessary occupations too, not expendable luxuries – and as long as your stockpile does go directly to you/your community, and you’re not being forced to produce not merely excess, but excess excess for some remote and already overstuffed profiteer!

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