By A.J. Drenth
What does it mean to “earn a living?” Should we all be expected to earn access to food, water, clothing, and shelter? Considering the current global economic climate, I think that such foundational questions, ridiculous as they may seem to some, are worth wrestling with. In this post, I will question and critique conventional ideas toward work and unemployment. I will also make the case that Intuitive Introverts are the personality types responsible for providing alternative visions and narratives during these difficult economic times.
Questioning “Earning a Living”
It seems awkward, if not erroneous, to suggest that other life forms engage in “earning” a living. When a bird encounters an appetizing worm, we cannot rightly say it has somehow earned it. Rather, the worm is more like a gift, an instantiation of grace. Even if the bird were forced to peck around a bit to locate its next meal, this instinctual act still seems a far cry from “earning” its livelihood. A similar point could be made with regard to the lifestyle of hunter-gatherers, those who rely on nature’s bounty for their survival. Since I am inherently drawn to this sort of reasoning, I cannot help but struggle with the notion that human beings must do something to make money or appease an employer in order to have their basic needs satisfied.
With that said, we cannot be naive to the fact that the natural world has been hijacked by human beings and the lion’s share of its resources now reside in the hands of a powerful few. There is very little public property remaining, let alone that which might provide a viable source of food for public consumption. This makes it nearly impossible for non-proprietors to produce or ascertain their own food. Instead, food is typically obtained from other human beings, from those who control the land and the food supply. Since those in power generally require that work be done, often large amounts of it, in exchange for food or other resources, we can glimpse the origins of this notion of “earning a living.”
This brings me to a more practical question: Are we willing to continue to work harder and harder in order to maintain a certain standard of living, or, are we willing to make sacrifices in material wealth for the sake of our psychosocial well-being? At what point is running the rat race no longer worth it? At what point do its promised benefits come at too great a cost? What if the time we now spend working overtime was used for activities like gardening, engaging in physical activity, or enjoying the company of friends and family?
Fears Pertaining to Joblessness
Because we have become so accustomed to a certain standard of living, there is a natural fear associated with being out of work. We are afraid of losing our prized possessions, of losing access to healthcare, of failing to save enough money for our kids to go to college. These fears are all understandable, but I think there are other fears that often go unnoticed. As much as anything, I think we fear losing our identities and reputations, our public sense of self. We are afraid of being bored and having no clearly defined purpose in the world. We have become reliant on society to provide us with preexisting identities, activities, and purposes. Hence, when its economic foundations begin to crumble, we panic and cling ever harder to whatever grants some semblance of safety and security.
Rediscovering Lost Arts & Virtues
Most people are truly terrified of change. Change involves a certain level of risk, uncertainty, and unpredictability. To remain calm and poised through a period of change requires courage, faith, and hope. We have also lost sight of our creativity and resourcefulness. These are virtues that most Americans, for several decades, have not really been forced to consistently consult or develop. Life has been relatively steady and stable and we have not been pressed to draw on our inner resources.
In light of our current economic predicament, I think it’s time we begin asking ourselves some tough questions and rediscovering some of these forgotten virtues. I challenge people to start envisioning alternative ways of finding meaning and subsistence outside the marketplace. What about gardening? What about art? Alternative forms of healthcare? What about starting local groups in your community that are immune to the capriciousness of global markets (see this post I wrote in response to Juliet Schor’s book, Plenitude.)
The Role of Personality Type
I do not necessarily expect Extraverted Sensing types to entertain these musings when any degree of seriousness. For these types, the basic structure of society is pregiven and is not really open to questioning. Most will continue to live and die according to the markets and the circulating injunctions as to how they should proceed. I expect greater sympathy, however from Introverted Intuitive types. In fact, I think IN types can be instrumental in birthing viable alternatives for meaningful living as this century unfolds.
Times of economic crisis are when society needs IN personality types the most, times when we need new ideas and new narratives. INs can remind others of what is truly important and help them remember the preciousness of life’s intangibles. INs also realize that human beings have vast stores of inner resources that can in many ways compensate for what may be lacking without. They recognize that, in many cases, what is most critical is a change in perspective. This is not to say that INs should ignore the importance of outward change. However, they should recognize that their primary role is one of birthing new visions, perspectives, and narratives, ideas that can then be passed along to other types for their implementation.