Getting Work Right: Labor and Leisure in a Fragmented World, by Michael J. Naughton (200 pages, Emmaus Road Publishing, 2019)
“Work-life balance” is a topic of much discussion. My colleague Michael Naughton does not like that way of putting it since it seems to imply that we have to live a life that is simply caught between two competing halves. A better way to think about it is whether one lives an integrated life. His new book, Getting Work Right: Labor and Leisure in a Fragmented World, offers a vision of work that is designed to help people see work as part of a calling by God.
With regard to a life of competing halves, Dr. Naughton looks at the understanding of the “two Adams” in the great Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik’s work. Rabbi Soloveitchik saw the depiction of the creation of man in Genesis 1 with the command to have dominion over the earth and subdue it as a depiction of one dimension of human existence. This “Adam I” is driven by the desire to know and to do and to solve problems. The depiction of “Adam II” in Genesis 2 is that of “man the receiver,” a contemplative being who “seeks meaning not primarily in his achievements but in his received relationships with family, friends, and God, as well as in the experience of the natural world: sickness, death, love, suffering, and play.” The problem has been with us always, perhaps particularly with men, but especially in a dynamic commercial society do people feel that the Adam I side of our existence is encouraged and nourished, but the Adam II side is starved and left for later. We are not urged to be contemplative but to think instrumentally about the world. What can I do with X? How can I make more money? How can I advance my career? These are all good questions, but they are not the deepest questions.
Dr. Naughton’s solution is that people in business should nourish an understanding of the “logic of gift” in every part of our lives so that we can think clearly about how to use our own gifts for the betterment of others, ourselves, and in service of God. How to nourish this understanding? The answer is perhaps simple, but not easy at all. It is to practice the art of leisure.
The modern understanding of leisure is generally oriented around play or entertainment. While these might be part of leisure, they are not at its heart. Instead, the heart of leisure, as depicted in Josef Pieper’s Leisure the Basis of Culture, is divine worship. Dr. Naughton’s second chapter, “Small Work and Shallow Leisure,” examines the false understandings of leisure as amusement and work as simply a job. What we find integrating our lives in this case can only be consumerism. We work for our money in order to spend that money on “fun” things and activities. The higher class version of this mistake is to think of leisure as only a necessary set-off to help us work better and help us in our careers. Instead of consumerism being the integrating aspect, careerism is the goal. We take “me time” in order to advance our own status in the world. In both cases, we are dealing with false gods that give us no satisfaction or rest. The consumer items and experiences may be shallower and grosser, but the career-centered focus is just as vicious. In both cases, the false gods are only stand-ins for the truest false god: ourselves.
That’s why the most important chapter is the final one, “The Power of Sunday: Holy Rest.” In this chapter, Dr. Naughton discusses the discovery he made in tandem with his wife, Teresa, about twenty years ago. Only by blocking off Sunday as a day of building the habits of silence, celebration, and charity can we find that our leisure is rest and our work is actually fulfilling. Dr. Naughton has a number of suggestions about how to spend Sunday that go far beyond simply attending Mass or church services. No, refraining from the work that makes our money is essential. So too is keeping technology to a minimum, especially technology that is not enjoyed together. It is by keeping away from these false gods of work and leisure that we discover each other and God in a new way.
No, truly divine worship allows us to see that we are not at its center and that our work is meant to subserve something more than our own pleasure or our own status. Instead, it is meant to help us build up the communities we live in. I would recommend reading the last chapter before reading the intermediate chapters, which are developments of the categories of the proper ends of business: good goods, good work, and good wealth. These categories, derived from the Pontifical Council on Peace and Justice’s Vocation of the Business Leader, the writing of which was led by Dr. Naughton himself, show us how to think of business in a way that does not reduce everything to money and me. By reading that last chapter first, I think one can think more clearly about what those chapters are trying to get at. As Dr. Naughton says, “if we do not get Sunday right, we will not get Monday—or any day of the workweek—right.” So, too, if we don’t see what true leisure looks like, we will not really be able to see how the true calling of work flows out of it and is continuous with it. Adam I really needs Adam II. It’s only by communion with the New Adam that we can begin to really integrate these old ones.
That is not easy. Dr. Naughton doesn’t simply offer platitudes in these chapters, after all, but evokes the difficulties in trying to live an integrated life in which one is a Christian on all those days of the week. In the chapter on good wealth, Dr. Naughton takes as an example a home health aid who worked for his mother when she was dying. Ruby was a single mother with little education, but she did a great and valuable service. The difficulty is that her pay was truly a pittance. What to do? Some would just shrug and observe that that’s what the market bears. Others that we need to dictate wages to companies. Dr. Naughton’s answer is that the problem of wages is one that needs many solutions. He rejects the facile way of wage-fixing since that often backfires by shutting down the business or making it impossible to hire those with low skills or experience. Instead, he argues, Ruby needs to work to make herself able to make more money, but those running businesses ought to figure out ways of seeing Ruby’s and other employees’ gifts and helping them to use and develop them in ways that they can themselves make enough money and contribute to the business. Government’s role in this might be to offer training programs for those at the bottom of the ladder. While I’m not sure that this is the best way to go about it—it seems businesses themselves are more suited to training people—it’s certainly not wrong on its face.
The point of the book isn’t to give a set of technical answers in any case but to tease out a vision of work and life that will inspire readers to ask the questions of themselves that need to be asked about their attitudes to work, money, and leisure. I know that I was myself made uncomfortable and guilty by this book as I read. Though I profess many of the same things about Sunday that Dr. Naughton does, too often that day becomes just another work-day with Mass squeezed in. Though I’d like to profess integrity, I often treat my work as a job or simply as a part of my career.
The guilt and discomfort were caused by a reaction to truth and not by any fire-and-brimstone quality of the prose or any sense that Dr. Naughton has it all together, however. He charmingly and refreshingly credits many of the insights to his wife, Teresa, who shared them with him when he was off-track. Getting Work Right is a wonderful invitation to share a vision of work that goes beyond resume obsession or Thank-God-It’s-Friday attitudes. It’s an invitation to Thank God It’s Sunday and keep thanking all week long.
Notes Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2019.
This was originally published with the same title in The Imaginative Conservative on December 25, 2019.