Work and Sacrifice (#24)
24. Cultural changes: As already discussed, the impact of new levels of contact between nations through globalization, and between individuals through technology, has resulted in significant cultural change. For the Christian business leader, two related key cultural changes have been the turn to individualism in the West and higher levels of family breakdown than in the past. With a strongly utilitarian view of economics and even of society on the rise, whole populations are encouraged to focus on achieving “what works for me”, independently of the effects on others, with results that negatively impact family life. “Values” are seen as relative, measured by their contribution to individual preferences and business gains. Work becomes simply a means to afford the pleasures of life that each person chooses. Rights become much more important than duties; sacrifice for a larger good is no longer considered. These attitudes fuel the drive of top management to claim a disproportionate share of the wealth created, for employees to nurture an attitude of entitlement and for customers to expect instant gratification.
Commentary: This point asserts that two key cultural changes, individualism and family breakdowns are due to the unstoppable trends of globalization and technology. Both cultural changes are directly opposed to the principles of Catholic Social Doctrine, and need to be addressed by all of us by speaking to our friends about alternatives that lead us to live happier lives.
I would like to address two topics in particular, whose original meaning has been eroded over the past several decades. Those topics are work and sacrifice.
As this point describes, work is seen primarily as a means to achieve the pleasures of life: put in your time and then splurge for a new car or a great vacation. We need to help others see that work is the primary way we increase our personal dignity and grow closer to God. We can transform a project at work into a gift to God by offering it to him, doing it as well as we can, and completing it on time. God will notice the effort we are making and bless that work, and our employer will notice that the quality of work has improved. And those seemingly endless hours at work will suddenly take on a supernatural meaning.
Sacrifice makes sense to people if it leads to some future pleasure: lower weight, stronger abs, enough savings to purchase a home entertainment system. But sacrifice was defined by Christ on the cross: sacrificing himself for the good of others, sacrificing for love. We sacrifice for love when we do something purely for the good of another, because we want the best for that person and don’t count the cost ourselves.
Paradoxically, doing work for another (God) and sacrificing for another (our family, our neighbors) makes us happier, which is what everyone says they want. But that requires us to stop looking only at ourselves, and begin to incorporate others in the work we do and the sacrifices we make. Happiness follows.