The Specter Of Uselessness

Yesterday I played 27 holes of golf. Played pretty well, but today I am relaxing a bit. The wife unit has gone to work, and it is just Lucy, our dog, and myself sitting here at the homestead thinking about the day. I am getting some work done, but having trouble with motivation. I think I am a person that needs to have structure each day to keep me moving forward.

I don’t want you to think that I am lazy, I am reading and writing. I will be completing some things that are related to my responsibilities at the school later today, and I am meeting my son for coffee. At 6pm I will be doing an observation of a faculty member. As I write this I am beginning to think that maybe my day is more structured than I thought.

All of this leads to me to want to write down some thoughts about the specter of uselessness. This is a concept proposed by Richard Sennett in his book “The Culture of the New Capitalism.” This concept can be applied to several demographics within our society. Those of us who are growing old, especially those of use who lose energy or purpose. A middle-aged man gets laid off, and can’t find another job, this man enters into a world of uselessness. Or maybe it is a person who has lost their job, because their work has been shipped over seas. They don’t have the skills needed to work in this new, more complicated environment. This person could be young and uneducated, or even a woman. As a result, they have a feeling of uselessness.

In either case you have individuals that are adversely affected by the changing culture that measures ability in the terms of creativity, intelligence, and employability. As Sennett states our new environment deems people more worthy and superior if they hold these traits. This philosophy then supports the natural aristocracy of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson stated, “There is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talents.”

This Jeffersonian ideal is usally discussed in congruence with Jacksonian democracy, which is based on the ideal of the self-made person. We in America have grown up on the ideal that if we work hard we can be successful. Jeffersonian meritocratic aristocracy is based not on birth or status, but out of the ability to do a certain type of work and the ability compete.

The question then is what do we do with those that do not have the skills to work in this new environment, or have the ability to compete? I am convinced that each of us is born with an innate desire to be productive. And as we struggle with our environment this innate desire is either enhanced or killed through experience. Sennett states, “In the writings of Abraham Maslow, for instance, human development was viewed as a lifelong negotiation between the genetic capacities of an individual and his or her experience in society; in place of Freud’s ideas about drives and instincts, Maslow sought a more plastic understanding of the self’s form in time.”

The implication of both Maslow and Alderfer’s ERG theory is that this struggle is a lifelong process. Erik Erikson in his eight stages reflects a life long struggle between two opposing forces in our lives as we look for a healthy equilibrium. Pondering this tension has reminded me of a sentence in the Alchemist. Paulo Coelho says, “And when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

I wonder if those who have lost the fire, if you will, and now experience this sense of uselessness feel that all of the universe is conspiring to help them achieve anything? These individuals had potential ability, and they still do, but now due to changing economic conditions have lost the opportunity to contribute, to be productive. I agree that meritocracy disempowers those that are not creative or ambitious. But I am not too sure that, as some would argue, represents the vast majority of people.

I do think that everyone has a creative potential. It is just finding what the gift is that each of these people has. I also agree with the idea of potential ability. Some just need to be reminded of that reality. Those that have this sense of uselessness may need help finding purpose again. Productivity, doing a good job and completing are both factors that can help us reclaim self-worth.

Later today I am going to go work out. In fact shortly, I am going to take Lucy for a walk. These little accomplishments keep me moving forward. Instead of focusing on my failures, I reject the sense of uselessness that comes from inaction. I also agree with Coehlo, that the universe does conspire, but that universe is Jesus Christ. Phil 1:6 states, and this is my life verse, “He that has begun a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ.” This inspires me to push on.

And that is my thought for the day!


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