Monday, September 03, 2012

Work and Thought

Today is Labor Day, so I'm thinking about work. But I am also thinking about Ed Johnson, a Gettysburg College alum who just passed away. Ed was a wonderful person for so many reasons, but one of the things I admired so much about him was his commitment to the value of ideas. He ran an insurance company and would occasionally have days where the firm took a break from business and gathered for discussions about great books. He would bring people out from the college to help facilitate conversation and in small groups, the employees would spend the day discussing the perennial questions of meaning, ethics, and being. It is sadly a peculiar view that work is a place for personal and only professional growth, that a better environment is created when room is made for thoughtfulness and the usual hierarchical arrangements are forsaken. It is wonderful to have gyms and yoga classes, on-site childcare and other conveniences as part of the workplace, but what Ed did was wholly other. He created a place where work was done by those who could engage each other at deeper levels. Ethics is not just a code that you better follow at risk of termination, but something living and humane, something that the company in each others company thought about honestly and openly. We live in a world that separates ideas from work, an assembly line mentality where efficiency demands people be made into cogs. Humanizing work has the effect of humanizing workers. Maybe that is why so many don't do it, but why it was so wonderful of Ed Johnson that he did.