The Value of Work

By Abel Merawi

value-of-workNovember 21, 2019 ( -- Human civilization through the ages, from the stone age to the agricultural and industrial revolutions and to now the technological times has been possible primarily because of work. The kind of work I refer to is not the same as the work or effort plants and animals exert. For human beings, work is the manifestation of a mental capacity. The creative or volitional capacity of human beings is evident in every invention that transformed our imagination into reality. Currently, people seem to have lost sight of this uniquely human ability. We have shifted our attention to empty words that never translate into action. It appears as if we are expecting our words to somehow become actions through a miracle. Our survival depends on the harmony of mind and body, which translates our thoughts into actions. In the following sections, we will try to explore the meaning and necessity of work; the petty morality that disregards work; and the qualities of industriousness expected from all of us.

There is one element in human beings that is not found in other living things: it is the ability to choose either to live or die. No other organism acts against its survival and it avails every instinct and movement directed towards life. In the case of human beings, as evident in suicidal people, we can choose not to live. Only the people who choose to live are expected to work and direct their movement towards survival. The philosopher Ayn Rand argues that thinking is not a matter of choice but a matter of survival. She claims that animals use their instincts to survive, and human beings use their mental capacity to do the same, since our feeble body can only be strong when its actions are directed by the mind. When we choose to live, we are also choosing to act. Work is the most genuine act through which we affirm our will to live. The challenges nature presents to a person can be won through work. When we are hungry or thirsty, we work to satisfy our needs; when cold, we make clothes; when we wish to communicate, we build technologies to do so; and whenever we face a problem, we engage in productive work to make life easier. This is the choice made by those who choose to live, but there is another form of life for those who choose to die.

The refusal to think is equivalent to the refusal to live. However, those who intentionally or unintentionally choose death over life do not always commit suicide. Most of them try to live off of the mental and physical toil of others. In this world, there are parasitic types of people who lead their lives by taking away the productions of others. Some of them take it away by force as in theft or robbery. Yet, the ones we should fear the most are those who take away by using morality as an excuse. This is legitimized by our cultural, religious and political principles. When the society claims that ‘money is the root of all evil,’ it is making the producers with the will to live feel guilty. Since money represents production, the above words mean, ‘production is the root of all evil.’ And when religious institutions make charity seem like an obligation rather than an action that emanates from goodwill, they make the productive people feel guilty. They are also making the unproductive people feel that they have the right to take alms or charity from others without making any effort. Furthermore, when the political system devices various ways to take money from workers using unnecessary taxes and bureaucratic systems that lead to corruption, it is punishing them for wanting to live. When the taxes working people pay is not spent honestly and properly to improve social welfare, it makes taxpayers feel like they are being robbed of their income. The very existence of such bureaucrats depends on the work of others, yet they demoralize them using physical force or petty morality.

In the context of Ethiopia, I feel like the promoters of death rather than life are taking the upper hand. We are surrounded by people who dread work but love the fruit of work. This is a logical contradiction that can be characterized as wanting to plant your crops and eat it too. We cannot have both! There is also no compromise in basic life principles: we either work and thrive or avoid work and live in poverty. The ones who are looking for shortcuts in life are trying to cheat reality – another logical contradiction. Robbery has become common in our country; gambling and betting are gaining ground; political favors for ‘special interest groups’ is giving riches to the loafers; and the lack of work ethic is evident in the youth who spend more time in recreation than in work. These are the sort of people that characterize the parasitic relation they have with the industrious people. The people who spend their entire life laboring are at times living in poverty, while those who never work are benefiting.

The fundamental problem in our country is poverty rather than ethnicity. The only way to escape poverty is through work. It is no surprise that rich countries have less social instability than others, as the root cause is poverty. The time and energy politicians spend on propaganda must be spent on actual work. For a change, I would like to see a political party with an economic plan for Ethiopia. Hitherto, none of them have made a difference in the financial lives of the people, except for rallying them to deadly games of ethnicity. All the intellectuals who take pride in themselves must contribute something tangible, rather than spending their time as political commentators. The present system of Ethiopia is contributing to poverty rather than combating it. Our national identity should be built on the foundation of united industriousness.

The blame we place on politicians must never be an excuse for the people to behave badly. Every individual has a responsibility for one’s own life. Not using our rational ability to think is the same as giving away our freedom to other. The Philosopher F. Nietzsche in ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’ speaks of the last man as a person without value, as one who doesn’t know right and wrong and lingers in the middle without action. In the same manner, the people who refuse to take a stand in life and live a principled life is bound to be enslaved by the con artists. A person that cannot not realize that life is the highest value in our existence is not fit to live. It is a simple logic – in order to live, we must work. The only person responsible for your existence is yourself, so use the volitional capacity of your mind and make life worth living.


Abel Merawi is Addis Ababa-based contributor for He can be reached through this form.

Other articles by Abel Merawi:

The Flaws with Ethiopian Political System

Intellectuals and the People

Where Are Our Pathfinders?

The Allegory of the Cave and Its Lessons to Leaders

The Truth Behind Humanity

The Seven Virtues

The Seven Deadly Sins

What is the right thing to do?

Building National Identity

Adey Abeba and the Spirit of Change

Mob Violence

Living the Truth as a Human Being

Hubris - The Tragedy of Not Learning from Others

The Era of Group Mentality: Us vs Them

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