Have you paused recently to reflect on how interdependent we are in our work and within an economy? For those with independent streaks, this question might be received as insulting. But I mean this in the best sense of interdependence. No-one truly is independent. We rely upon countless others throughout our day, and others rely upon us.
Work, at its core, is the means by which we serve one another in a society and an economy. Through my work I contribute to society and make myself useful to others. And through the work of others, I am served countless times throughout my day. And lest we miss this, work has both paid and unpaid expressions. From a parent working at home to care for children, to those serving in paid positions, our work—paid and unpaid—is most often the primary way we serve others.
Work becomes a beautiful web or network of service.
My Work of Serving Others Today
My work today happens to involve traveling to a conference. Because of this, my work for the day is fairly straightforward. First, I’m using time on the plane to (hopefully) serve you the reader of this blog through my work of reflecting on the meaning of work. Second, I’m going to a conference that will allow me to gain insights for my role as an academic administrator so that I may better understand how I to serve the students enrolled in the doctoral program I lead.
So this particular day, I hope that the recipients of my work are you and my doctoral students. Through my work (some of it paid and some of it unpaid), I am serving others today.
The Work of Others Serving Me Today
But the web of work does not end there by a long shot. It is barely lunchtime as I write this, and I have been served by innumerable individuals who have served me through their work. Though I will certainly miss countless categories, consider with me the multitude of individuals who have already served me today through their work before I have even reached the lunch hour.
- The furniture makers who made the bed I slept in
- The home builders who made the home in which I live and woke up
- The inventors and manufacturers who developed the alarm clock used to wake me
Preparing for the Day
- The workers who made the modern conveniences of a shower, toilet, and sink
- The product developers and distributors who make simple toiletries available so I may shave and brush my teeth
- The clothing designers, manufactures, and laborers involved in the creation and distribution of the clothing I am wearing today
Traveling to, from, within, and in between Airports
- The countless individuals from Henry Ford on involved in providing a reliable Ford vehicle for me to drive to the airport this morning
- The massive number of individuals who participated in the planning, construction, and maintenance of the roadway and traffic network facilitating a smooth drive to the airport
- The countless number of engineers, builders, and beyond involved with constructing and maintaining the parking ramp, elevator, trams, escalator, restaurants, concourses, restrooms, jet ways, tarmacs, runways, and airplanes I have encountered and relied upon today
- The technology experts involved in bringing smartphones, computers, monitors, and avionics involved in my work and transportation today
- The many airport and airline employees who helped with scheduling, checking in, loading bags, fueling planes, boarding, serving passengers on the plane, flying, navigating, and those attending to safety through air traffic control
Brightening the Day — Back to the Individual
And while I’m missing an endless number of categories and individuals who have served me today through products and services provided and used—even though I have never met most of them—sometimes we have the chance to get to see the person serving us and greet them by name.
One of those individuals was Gwen. Gwen served me through her work today by brewing and handing me my coffee this morning at the airport. Though a small act, Gwen brightened the early morning at the start of my travel with kindness and caffeine. While she is just one individual, Gwen reminds me that the countless number of others who served me today through their work also have names and faces.
Work and Economy is about People
At the end of the day, economy and work are not just about money, labor, and exchange. Economy and work are ultimately about people and how these people contribute to the well-being and flourishing of others. In a modest way, I’m serving people through my particular work today. In exchange for this modest commitment to serve others, in return I have been served by thousands, if not millions, through the products and services that have facilitated my work and travel today.
In light of this, I am grateful. I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve others through my work. I’m grateful for other people who likewise serve me through their work. Work provides a network of service. Work, in a very real way, becomes the glue that holds us together as a society.
An Invitation to Recognize and Value People in Their Work
So, I invite you to pause in the midst of your day.
Pause and recognize how you are serving others in your work today, both the paid or unpaid dimensions of your work. Pause and recognize how others are serving you through their work (again, paid or unpaid). Be grateful for these observations. Be grateful for these people. And, allow this thankfulness to spill over into expressions of grace and gratitude as you interact with others in your day. We live in a delightful Web of Work.