The Holy Grail?

Apologies for the blatant misuse of two Monty Python clips.

A leading UK doctor, John Ashton, has declared that we should move to a four day week to combat the issue of stress. Click here for the full story.

I don’t like the phrase ‘work life balance’.  There is a lazy assumption that work is bad and free time is good.  Personally I enjoy my work and derive great satisfaction from it.   We all need to have a purpose and for many that is found in ‘work’.   However notwithstanding the knotty details that will vary by individual, there can be little argument that having more time to spend as you choose can only be a good thing, to a point.

Monty Python’s Knight’s of the Round Table sang:

In war we’re tough and able,
Quite indefatigable.
Between our quests we sequin vests and impersonate Clark Gable.
It’s a busy life in Camelot.

So it seems they had the right balance!

Being brought up in the 60’s and early 70’s I was promised a future where we’d all have a personal jet pack and more importantly the leisure time to use it. Increasing automation would mean that we could produce more with less labour and therefore it seemed logical to assume we would all be working greatly reduced hours.  We’d have groovy gadgets to minimise effort and loads of leisure time.

The promised automation happened and exceeded expectations in ways that could not have been predicted, but the golden age of leisure has not yet materialised.

The creation of the consumer society increased the amount of (largely unnecessary) ‘stuff’ we all desire to buy.  Meanwhile the ‘surplus’ of labour depressed it’s value in line with standard economic models. With wages reducing in real terms people are working longer hours to make ends meet and those in more comfortable positions are all too aware that they are easily replaced and so are keen to be seen ‘putting in the hours’.  Only a very small fraction of the population is seeing an increase (many would say a disproportionate increase) in wealth.

Many of the benefits of ‘time’ come from the freedom of choice that it presents.  Without sufficient funds to take advantage of these choices it ceases being a benefit and becomes a drag.  I am not talking about unlimited funds to support expensive hobbies and holidays.  But if your basic needs are not secure you will not be able to seek the Holy Grail of a more spiritual fulfilment.

On the face of it that leaves the rather gloomy thought that until the entire economic model of western society is overturned we are doomed to working longer and longer hours and suffering the health consequences.  Of course that may well be within my circle of concern but it is not in my circle of control.  What is though, is my attitude to ‘stuff’.  By consciously becoming aware of my real needs as opposed to the desires created by the very clever marketing industry and by prioritising those needs I can reduce my outgoings enormously.  This then creates the opportunity to work less and live more.  In turn this creates more opportunities for meaningful work for those who need it and by reducing rampant consumerism we all help to preserve the world we live in (and who knows, taken to extremes it might even change the face of capitalism).

It might be too good to be true, but it beats doing nothing.

King Arthur: How do you do, good lady? I am Arthur, King of the Britons. Whose castle is that?
Woman: King of the who?
King Arthur: King of the Britons.
Woman: Who are the Britons?
King Arthur: Well, we all are. We are all Britons. And I am your king.
Woman: I didn’t know we had a king. I thought we were an autonomous collective.
Dennis: You’re foolin’ yourself! We’re living in a dictatorship. A self-perpetuating autocracy in which the working class…
Woman: Oh, there you go bringing class into it again.
Dennis: Well, that’s what it’s all about! If only people would…

Monty Python and The Holy Grail





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