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Twice this week it came through from different quarters: 'Work is the best care'.
Florijn, a former alderman of the city of Rotterdam, is said to have been one of the first to utter this credo. I can't agree with it and there seem to be a number of social trends at play under the surface that elicit such a statement. Namely:
- The economic value of a human being equate with the intrinsic value of a human being
The best care then is to give someone his or her economic value (back), ignoring the value a person already has (but does not know?). Is that really the best care? What is probably meant is that work can be meaningful. But that's the world turned upside down: The best care then is meaning, of which work can be a part. Even with work, life can be experienced as meaningless. This brings me to the next point;
- Work with its associated income and prestige as a representation of a meaningful life
A meaningful life is one with sufficient money and social status. Work provides a purpose, income resources. With this purpose and means, one can rise from a low social status to a higher one. And this is what gives life - in contemporary terms. sentence (from social identity). It fits within the "participatory society" and the emphasis on "self-reliance. It exposes the impersonal and individualistic nature of our culture. Which raises the follow-up question of what, in this context - 'Work is the best care' - one actually means by care.
- Care redefined
Normally, 'care' is taken to mean a concern for one's psychological or physical well-being, and related activities for improvement. But now one seems to mean an 'accelerated ability to stand on one's own two feet'. It is the political agenda 'from compensation to participation', that seems to be calling out here. It is the emphasis on self-reliance, flow, and budgets. It is no longer the actual substantive care that matters, but the outcome, the "product. And that product is the person with their own home and income. Is that indeed the best care? This cannot but be related to another social trend that has manifested itself ever more powerfully since the Enlightenment:
- The disappearance of existential frameworks of meaning
I think, on inquiry, they do mean to say that meaning is the best care. That is in line with the principles in the therapies of Frankl and his experiences as an Auchwich survivor; dealing with loss experiences, lack of hope and future prospects, personal responsibility and choices. In this sense, work can be part of a meaning-making framework, but does not coincide with it.
Meaningfulness within counseling, which includes important life and faith questions, seems to be a secondary concern. It does not seem to be allowed at the moment, especially if it smacks of any form of religion. It is certainly not fashionable. Work; yes that fits better. There is social and political support for that. It is 'neutral' and not 'contaminated' by (backward) ideologies. Work is good for everyone. That is what makes work meaningful.
But even such a credo is not neutral; there is a world (society) hidden behind it. As far as I am concerned: work can give meaning. And meaning, yes, that is the best care.