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On Labor and Luxury
by [?]

And there is only one such change possible: they must cease to deceive, they must repent, they must acknowledge that labor is not a curse, but the glad business of life. “But what will be the result if I do toil for ten, or eight, or five hours at physical work, which thousands of peasants will gladly perform for the money which I possess?” people say to this.

The first, simplest, and indubitable result will be, that you will become a more cheerful, a healthier, a more alert, and a better man, and that you will learn to know the real life, from which you have hidden yourself, or which has been hidden from you.

The second result will be, that, if you possess a conscience, it will not only cease to suffer as it now suffers when it gazes upon the toil of others, the significance of which we, through ignorance, either always exaggerate or depreciate, but you will constantly experience a glad consciousness that, with every day, you are doing more and more to satisfy the demands of your conscience, and you will escape from that fearful position of such an accumulation of evil heaped upon your life that there exists no possibility of doing good to people; you will experience the joy of living in freedom, with the possibility of good; you will break a window,–an opening into the domain of the moral world which has been closed to you.

“But this is absurd,” people usually say to you, for people of our sphere, with profound problems standing before us,–problems philosophical, scientific, artistic, ecclesiastical and social. It would be absurd for us ministers, senators, academicians professors, artists, a quarter of an hour of whose time is so prized by people, to waste our time on any thing of that sort, would it not?–on the cleaning of our boots, the washing of our shirts, in hoeing, in planting potatoes, or in feeding our chickens and our cows, and so on; in those things which are gladly done for us, not only by our porter or our cook, but by thousands of people who value our time?

But why should we dress ourselves, wash and comb our hair? why should we hand chairs to ladies, to guests? why should we open and shut doors, hand ladies, into carriages, and do a hundred other things which serfs formerly did for us? Because we think that it is necessary so to do; that human dignity demands it; that it is the duty, the obligation, of man.

And the same is the case with physical labor. The dignity of man, his sacred duty and obligation, consists in using the hands and feet which have been given to him, for that for which they were given to him, and that which consumes food on the labor which produces that food; and that they should be used, not on that which shall cause them to pine away, not as objects to wash and clean, and merely for the purpose of stuffing into one’s mouth food, drink, and cigarettes. This is the significance that physical labor possesses for man in every community; but in our community, where the avoidance of this law of labor has occasioned the unhappiness of a whole class of people, employment in physical labor acquires still another significance,–the significance of a sermon, and of an occupation which removes a terrible misfortune that is threatening mankind.

To say that physical labor is an insignificant occupation for a man of education, is equivalent to saying, in connection with the erection of a temple: “What does it matter whether one stone is laid accurately in its place?” Surely, it is precisely under conditions of modesty, simplicity, and imperceptibleness, that every magnificent thing is accomplished; it is impossible to plough, to build, to pasture cattle, or even to think, amid glare, thunder, and illumination. Grand and genuine deeds are always simple and modest. And such is the grandest of all deeds which we have to deal with,–the reconciliation of those fearful contradictions amid which we are living. And the deeds which will reconcile these contradictions are those modest, imperceptible, apparently ridiculous ones, the serving one’s self, physical labor for one’s self, and, if possible, for others also, which we rich people must do, if we understand the wretchedness, the unscrupulousness, and the danger of the position into which we have drifted.