In an American culture focused so heavily on achievement and getting things done, most of us understand the value of hard work, and would feel complimented if someone told us we were a hard worker. But equally as important is the practice of leisure, or the contemplative life.
Dr. Michael Naughton has a new book on this issue, called Getting Work Right: Labor and Leisure in a Fragmented World. Dr. Naughton joins NC Family Communications Director Traci DeVette Griggs to discuss his book, and the interesting relationship between labor and leisure, on this week’s episode of the Family Policy Matters radio show and podcast.
God called all of us in Genesis to work, to “subdue and have dominion over the earth.” “When we work, we not only change things outside of us,” shares Dr. Naughton, “but we simultaneously change things inside of us. […] The heart of it is really reflecting on how can I open myself up to a much larger picture that the Lord’s calling me to, in terms of the work that I do.”
If work is about being active and giving of one’s gifts, then leisure is about being contemplative and receiving from God, according to Dr. Naughton. “Leisure is about this receptive life; it’s not about what I do, but do I have the capacity to receive the reality of the world?”
“Balance sometimes fosters a divided life […] What we’re really looking for is how do we integrate in a much more powerful way this relationship between work and leisure.”
Tune in to Family Policy Matters this week to hear Dr. Michael Naughton discuss the integration of labor and leisure in our lives.
TRACI GRIGGS: Thank you for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. I think we could all agree that if someone said we were a hard worker, that would be a compliment. But I wonder how many of us realize how important it is to be good at leisure. Well, today’s guest says those two things—work and leisure—are vitally connected. Dr. Michael Naughton has written a book about this. It’s called, Getting Work Right: Labor and Leisure in a Fragmented World.
Dr. Naughton, welcome to Family Policy Matters. This sounds like it’s going to be fun.
DR. MICHAEL NAUGHTON: I’m looking forward to it, Traci. Thanks for having me.
TRACI GRIGGS: Before we get to the leisure part, let’s talk a little bit about some of the fundamental questions as to why work matters to the human person and the human experience.
DR. MICHAEL NAUGHTON: I think most of us intuitively know this, but we’re made to work. There’s a Latin phrase—Homo faber, “man the maker”—and this is why when people win the lottery and they quit work, they’re often usually not happy, and they’re not happier. And it’s actually why the church has always been concerned—and other organizations have been concerned—about unemployment, because often not to have work causes some serious issues. And key to that is that we’re made in the image of a God who is a creator, right? We have a command to “subdue and have dominion over the earth,” and the gifts and the talents and the abilities that we have help us to develop who we are in the exercising of those gifts. One last point on this: there’s a term which I find very helpful called the “subjective dimension of work.” When we work, we not only change things outside of us, but we simultaneously change things inside of us. And so the question for us is, what are we changing into in the work that we do? And that I think is one of the key reasons why it’s so important.
TRACI GRIGGS: Well, that is actually important. So, the idea that our work is transforming us, do you want to talk a little bit more about that, because that seems like a very interesting concept?
DR. MICHAEL NAUGHTON: It’s one of the major insights that we have to kind of recognize, because for many of us, we don’t see the changes in terms of what work is doing to us. Think about it this way: all of us are evaluated in terms of the objective changes. If we don’t get more students; if we don’t have greater financial viability; if we don’t increase our productivity. We get evaluated on it; we’ll get incentivized; we get rewarded. If we don’t do it, we feel it. And so we have this kind of checklist about what we can do and how we can prove outside. But we don’t often have this checklist inside. That’s why the kind of reflective manager—the reflective worker, the contemplative worker—is so important because if I’m not reflecting on what work is doing, and particularly what it’s affecting in me, I wake up 20 years down the road and say, “What happened? How did I get here?”
TRACI GRIGGS: Right. And I think this seems like a much different way of looking at work, especially for some believers who might say, “Hey, I just work to pay the bills and then I’m doing my ministry and working out my faith, you know, outside of the office.” But that doesn’t sound like what you’re saying.
DR. MICHAEL NAUGHTON: Exactly right, Traci. You hit upon a major problem that I talked about in the book and it’s called the “divided life.” So, we compartmentalize off this particular area of work. Sometimes our work can be challenging, sometimes it can be oppressive, sometimes it doesn’t have as much of a value to it. We feel that way, and we say, “Okay, well that’s just about money, right? My real life is over here.” And that divided life is certainly not from a Christian perspective that believes in the incarnation, believes that the yeast of faith is animating everything I do, not just this section over here. And so that’s why I think the heart of it is really reflecting on how can I open myself up to a much larger picture that the Lord’s calling me to, in terms of the work that I do.
TRACI GRIGGS: So, let’s talk about the connection between work and leisure. Why is leisure also important to how we work?
DR. MICHAEL NAUGHTON: The thesis of the book is that if we’re going to get work right, we have to get leisure right. And that is, I think, this relationship between what we call the contemplative life and the active life. Think about it in terms of breathing, Traci, right? We have to breathe in, we have to breathe out, right? And this is really the nature of life. That is I need to receive and I need to give. Now, we often think of leisure as golf, as vegging out in front of a television, whatever it might be, and that’s just a cheap version of what leisure can be. It can be leisurely in one sense, but if we depend too much on it, it actually destroys leisure because it doesn’t give us rest. And so this leisure is about this receptive life; it’s not about what I do, but do I have the capacity to receive the reality of the world?
And that for us as Americans particularly, who are very pragmatic, very much like, “Get it done! Let’s do it!” We have a hard time creating those conditions for receptivity. And then when I receive well, now I have the capacity to give well. And about work, in a sense, “How do I give of myself in the work that I do?” So, leisure is getting at the idea of the contemplative life, the receptive life. That’s why the relationship of work and leisure, the contemplative and active life, and this idea of receiving and giving is a kind of key rhythm of the way that we should be living.
TRACI GRIGGS: So, it sounds like you equate the leisure parts of our life as contemplative. I think sometimes people hear, “Oh well I work hard and I play hard.” Their idea of relaxing is to be on a game with some friends, or to be on Facebook, and these are not necessarily the kinds of leisure you’re talking about, and maybe not producing some of the effects that we think they might be.
DR. MICHAEL NAUGHTON: A lot of our leisure are forms of amusements that actually are not life-giving. Now, it doesn’t mean watching television is inherently evil, or watching a football game, or playing a video game; they’re not inherently problematic. They become disordered when we spend way too much time on it, when our leisure becomes reduced to these things. And now what’s happened is we have a very small view of leisure, and thus we don’t have the human capacity to grow in the leisure that we have.
TRACI GRIGGS: Why do we have so much trouble just being contemplative, being quiet?
DR. MICHAEL NAUGHTON: There are a lot of reasons obviously, but I think that we’re living in what Pope Francis talks about as a technocratic paradigm. And again, let’s be very clear, technology is a very good thing, right? Our phones really enable us to do really important things. But we sometimes live vicariously through these technological devices and we don’t often have opportunities to detach ourselves from them. But the problem with the phone is that it has a “creep” dimension to it, because then we go from that and then we go to something else and then we go to something else. And so I think we’re going to have to find much better ways to detach ourselves from the technological in order for us not to lose sight of these deeper realities. I think that technology is a huge question. The ubiquity of it is just astounding, both in terms of education, in terms of how people interface it, in terms of their families, in terms of what’s happening at work. And I think it’s largely in the family that we have to find these places, that we have to find ways to disconnect from it and to get to these deeper realities.
TRACI GRIGGS: So as human beings, it’s important to be quiet, but of course as believers—and you’ve mentioned this several times—having that time to worship, to concentrate on God. You even mentioned in your book, about the power of Sunday. Talk a little bit about that, as believers why is this particularly important?
DR. MICHAEL NAUGHTON: I tell some stories in the book about the difficulties that we’ve had as a family, and my particular way in terms of the work. But if I was to kind of go back to the thesis question, I said, “If we don’t get leisure right, we won’t get work right.” If we don’t get Sunday right, we’re not going to get Monday right. And Sunday, I don’t mean just for an hour a day; I mean for the whole day. And this gets right back to the Ten Commandments, “Keep Holy the Sabbath.” And we think that somehow it’s something like an extrinsic reality, but it is actually the way we’re made. We’re made to work and we’re made to rest. And Sunday ought to be a whole day of that. But it’s really hard to do this in this culture, and I could spend the rest of my time telling you how I fail at it all the time. But there is this idea that we need to reclaim Sunday, and this is where we need to look to the Jews because the Jews have done this much better than we have. Of all the Commandments, I think this is the one where it’s just a little bit thinking, “Well, you know, it’s maybe not as important. That was maybe for another day.” I often say that if I said that about adultery, you know, “Honey, I tried not to commit adultery this week, but I’ll try next week,” we know what would happen to our marriages.
But this idea of the Sabbath and the idea of the Lord’s day, we ought not to be casual with it. And that’s why when we come to Sunday, we need to have a different set of habits of mind in terms of entering it. And I would say the key habit of mind is the habit of silence and solitude and the ability to silence ourselves. And this is why we detach ourselves from production and consumption, as well as technology. But then we also need the habit of celebration. And this is where the liturgy is so important because what liturgy tells us is that this world is good, not because I say so, but because it’s been created so.
TRACI GRIGGS: Talk about how we achieve that balance of not making work too important, and not making it not important enough.
DR. MICHAEL NAUGHTON: You use the word balance, and I do think balance has a role to play, but the deeper question we’re always trying to get here is the question of integration. Because balance sometimes fosters a divided life; “I’ve got work over here, I’ve got leisure over there.” What we’re really looking for is this: how do we integrate in a much more powerful way this relationship between work and leisure? Two ways that we disorder it is precisely what you were getting at. One is we tend to undervalue work and thus we see work as a job. So that’s one ditch on the problem.
The other ditch is the careerist, and those are the people who overvalue work; they try to get more out of work than work can give. And their whole identity is found in terms of their achievements. And thus often, what is the first question we ask people? “What do you do?” Because we seem to elevate people’s doing over their being. We’re more impressed. So we go into places and we’re looking for those people who have really achieved certain things, who have made a certain success, and we say, “Gosh, I met Bill Gates,” “I met……..” as though somehow thinking that those are the really important people in life. So, the careerist I think overvalues these things. Looking at work as a vocation, what it does is it orders work in its proper way. And part of that ordering is to make sure that the most profound moment of our lives is often not our achievements, but it’s actually what we’ve been able to accept. For many of us, particularly the older we get, when we have to accept failure, when we accept sickness, when we accept critique. And those moments are often those moments where we can grow most profoundly. As somebody once said, “The fruit often grows in the valleys, not in the mountaintops.” And yet I’m like everybody else, I want to publish a book; I want to get applause from my talks. And I see that as the kind of real high moments. But those are often not the moments where the profound understanding of humanity comes. Now they’re important moments, but they’re often not the key moments..
TRACI GRIGGS: Very interesting concept, and I’m sure that the people that are listening would like to learn more. And we’re about out of time, so Dr. Naughton, where can our listeners go to get a copy of your new book, Getting Work Right: Labor and Leisure in a Fragmented World?
DR. MICHAEL NAUGHTON: Sure, they can certainly get it right on Amazon if they wanted to go in that route. Then they can get it right from the Saint Paul Publishing House, and it’s right on their website, very easy to get.
TRACI GRIGGS: Thank you so much. Dr. Michael Naughton. Thank you for being with us today on Family Policy Matters.
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