Hard work has become the most lauded virtue of our time. “Work hard and you will achieve your dreams” is the mantra that every child grows up with – at home and in school – to the extent that it becomes the eternal and universal truth. Succeed and thank hard work; fail and blame the lack of hard work – such a simple formula for such a complex world. Hard work, we are reminded repeatedly, is the bridge between rags and riches: As every able-bodied person has the capability for hard work, every person can become rich and successful. What a wonderful meritocratic system, it seems. Things are seldom as they appear, though.
Undoubtedly, hard work is a virtue; but not when accompanied by ignorance. The worshipping of hard work by the sincere but uninformed majority has paid off handsomely for a very tiny minority, who let their money do the hard work while they toil away at golf courses and luxury spas. Presumed hard work has become the justification for systemic injustices such as the staggering income inequality around the globe. It is not uncommon to hear that the rich got rich by working harder than the rest – a claim that signals the success of hegemonic brainwashing and is not only obviously false but also detrimental to the vast majority.
It is no secret that most people – the poor – who work long hours in often unbearable conditions repeating menial and strenuous tasks work much harder than the rich few but they rarely escape a life of struggle. Even the so-called middle-class in so-called ‘developed’ nations work tirelessly but still barely get ahead. Research has shown the rags-to-riches story to be so rare that it is virtually a myth. But the myth is nonetheless perpetually propagated by the media and the film industry, which, of course, are funded by the rich who benefit from the entrenchment of the myth.
The other side of the same coin is that leisure is guilt-ridden, considered necessary only insofar as it recharges the batteries for the next long shift of hard work. However, again, the rich seem to be the exception to this rule: work is usually optional but engaged in nonetheless for the purpose of purpose amidst all the purposeless fun and relaxation. For the rest, it is: rest at your own peril.
There is one glaring historical fact about leisure that is rarely mentioned, let alone discussed: Advancing technology and booming productivity since the beginning of the twentieth century means that workers can work a lot less to produce the same output; however, workers work about the same hours now as they did then. This can mean two things: either that workers produce a lot more than they used to and thus are rewarded with a lot more income or they produce about the same and are rewarded with a lot more leisure time. Neither has happened. Almost all the reward – in the form of wealth – has gone to the owners of corporations; this explains the growing income inequality in the last few decades. Again, the myth of hard work has worked wonders for the rich. The workers do not dare demand more leisure time as they fear being labelled ‘lazy’ and so they keep working just as hard, making more money for the already-outrageously-rich, waiting in vain for a long-awaited raise or a much-desired holiday.
Let’s dispel this myth, once and for all. Hard work is good only when it is for a wisely-chosen realistic goal and not for the sake of hard work. Hard work is not the miracle-worker it is often portrayed to be. Further, we need to demand more leisure time – to be enjoyed guilt-free. What was, after all, the purpose of all the hard work throughout human history? Was it not so that life would become easier and more enjoyable? The reward is long overdue.