Working Hard—When It Is a Virtue
ALL over Southeast Asia, many young servant girls put aside their kitchen work and sit glued to their television sets when the Japanese-made TV serial Oshin comes on. It is a rags-to-riches story of a woman who succeeds after enduring many years of toil and hardship. With tears in their eyes, the girls identify with Oshin, the heroine. The episodes seem to be just what they need to help them face another day of hard work.
Indeed, when people slave away day after day to the point of jeopardizing their health and life, they must have reasons for doing so. Why do they do it? As with the Asian servant girls, wanting to improve one’s standard of living is surely a common and powerful incentive to work hard. Apparently, though, material reward is not all that is involved.
“Financial reward is a desired, but almost incidental, incentive,” writes Stephen D. Cohen concerning the Japanese work ethic. What, then, moves the Japanese to work so hard? “The success of a company’s sales relative to its competitors is a source of immense pride and self-satisfaction. Hard work that contributes to this end is its own reward,” explains Cohen. Allegiance to their company becomes a reason that employees work hard, and work becomes the only way for them to express their worth. Not to be overlooked, too, is the urge to climb the corporate ladder. The possibility of someday reaching the top remains a strong incentive for hard work.
Reasons to Risk One’s Health?
Are these proper reasons to put one’s health and life on the line? Of the one who works hard for material riches, the Bible points out, “his eyes themselves are not satisfied with riches.” Eventually such a person may come to wonder: “For whom am I working hard and causing my soul to lack in good things?” (Ecclesiastes 4:8) Those who work hard to get rich do not seem to know when or where to stop. They get themselves trapped in a vicious circle of work, work, and more work. The Bible simply warns: “Do not toil to gain riches.”—Proverbs 23:4.
What about company loyalty? While it can be a virtue, the possible effect of working excessively must be considered. “If a guy is burning out,” one chief executive officer of an American company said, “I don’t want him on my team anyway.” The wife of a “corporate warrior” wrote to a newspaper after her husband died from overwork before reaching the age of 40: “What condolences are we supposed to find in their claim, ‘We are sorry to have lost such a valuable person’? Those corporate martyrs, once dead, are treated as if they were mere ‘throwaway goods.’”
Even if one escapes work burnout or death from overwork, what happens when one reaches retirement? “Despite working very hard for their companies,” says Motoyo Yamane, a Japanese broadcaster, “they are made aware of the fact that the company no longer needs them and that they are useless.” To the impersonal company, hardworking employees are only cogs in the wheels of their corporate mechanism, to be replaced when they are worn-out. No wonder many Japanese are losing faith in their companies! They begin to realize that their devotion to the company is a love that is unreturned.
What can be said about ascending the corporate ladder? Those who have reached the rung of middle management soon realize that not everybody will make it to the top. What happens then? Robbed of prospects for promotion, they start to job hop. So much for loyalty and virtue!
Balanced View of Working Hard
Although hard work prompted by love of money, loyalty to a corporation, or a competitive spirit ultimately frustrates and disappoints, the Bible does not brush aside the value of hard work. “Every man should eat and indeed drink and see good for all his hard work. It is the gift of God.” (Ecclesiastes 3:13) The Bible recommends enjoying the fruit of one’s hard work. This gives us a hint as to what may be the proper view of hard work.
The Health and Welfare Ministry of Japan recently advised workers to “forget about the job after hours (and) eat dinner with their families.” Some business leaders apparently appreciate the wisdom of this advice. For example, the president of a growing biotechnology firm declared: “I want all our employees to take good care of their families before anything else. Their work at our company is nothing more than a means to an end.”
Indeed, a good family relationship is certainly a worthwhile goal to work hard for. If a warm family atmosphere is endangered or your health suffers because of your work, you are not seeing good for all your hard work.
However, in Japanese society, where the seniority system dominates, some have developed the attitude: “Neither be absent, nor be tardy, nor work.” They pretend to be diligent by staying late at the workplace but only wait for the supervisor to go home. Kenji, a salesman for an interior decorating company in Hiroshima, had that mentality. He would loaf on the job, spending time in a café or a pinball parlor.
Does such an attitude result in happiness? “The slack hand will come to be for forced labor,” says a Bible proverb. Today, one may not come under literal forced labor because of one’s laziness. Nevertheless, the work could become drudgery, forced labor mentally speaking. On the other hand, the same proverb points out the benefit of diligence: “The hand of the diligent ones is the one that will rule.” (Proverbs 12:24) Even if you do not come to rule a country or a company, at least you will be respected by your family and will be master of yourself. In addition you may win the confidence of your employer, as well as gain a clean conscience.
Kenji found this to be so. He decided to study the Bible, and his life changed dramatically. “By applying the principle of honesty in the workplace,” he says, “I began to work conscientiously whether the boss was present or not. That won his trust in me.”
When Working Hard Becomes a Virtue
The truth is, for work to be meaningful, it must benefit others. ‘Satisfying work,’ defined a business writer, ‘is work that brings convenience, comfort or pleasure to many people’s lives.’ Such work brings deep satisfaction to the worker. It is as Jesus Christ said: “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.”—Acts 20:35.
Although working for the good of others is commendable, there is yet another key element to finding satisfaction in work and in life. King Solomon, after having experienced all the luxuries and riches that life has to offer, came to this grand conclusion: “Fear the true God and keep his commandments. For this is the whole obligation of man.”—Ecclesiastes 12:13.
Clearly, we must consider God’s will in whatever we undertake. Are we working in harmony with his will or working against it? Are we endeavoring to please him or just to please ourselves? If we neglect doing God’s will, we become nothing more than materialists or hedonists and will eventually suffer the pain of loneliness, emptiness, and despair.
So remember that serving Jehovah God—doing work that pleases our Creator—will never leave us dissatisfied. Jehovah himself is a hard worker, and he invites us to join him and become his “fellow workers.” (1 Corinthians 3:9; John 5:17) But does such hard work really bring genuine happiness?
A managing director of a printing firm once visited the Watch Tower printing plant in Japan to study its layout. His attention was drawn to more than the machines. He saw young men enjoying their work, and he was surprised to hear that all are volunteers and that countless more have eagerly applied to join them. Why was he surprised? “At our company,” he explained, “when we employ ten people, we must consider it fairly good if four of them are still with us after one year. You Watchtower people have a treasure in these young workers!”
What makes these young men so happy and such hard workers? As volunteers, they are obviously not working for money. What, then, motivates them? Their dedication to and appreciation for Jehovah, their Creator, and their love for their neighbor. Their attitude shows that they are not working “as men pleasers, but as Christ’s slaves, doing the will of God whole-souled.”—Ephesians 6:6.
All of this is but a preview of what is to come. Those who are now working hard to serve Jehovah can look forward to the time when he will soon restore Paradise and the whole earth will be filled with worthwhile works. Isaiah, an ancient prophet of God, foretold regarding life then: “They will certainly build houses and have occupancy; and they will certainly plant vineyards and eat their fruitage. They will not build and someone else have occupancy; they will not plant and someone else do the eating. . . . The work of their own hands my chosen ones will use to the full.”—Isaiah 65:21, 22.
What a blessing work will then be! By learning what God’s will is for you and working in harmony with it, may you be among the blessed ones of Jehovah and always ‘see good for all your hard work.’—Ecclesiastes 3:13.
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Balanced View of Work Saves a Marriage
For Yasuo, who lives in Hokkaido, Japan, work was the only pastime until a few years ago. He held a position in middle management, and he was obsessed with increasing sales. Day after day he worked till as late as 11:00 p.m. without taking any holidays. Then, he recalls: “I realized that no matter how hard I exerted myself, I was not getting any joy out of my work.” Yasuo’s physical condition began to deteriorate. Talking with his wife, he realized that there was something more important than his work—his family. He changed his life-style and joined his wife in studying the Bible. He is now the loved and respected head of a happy family.
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Your work should not endanger family relationships
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Soon all will enjoy working to make earth a paradise