Anthropological meaning of work

I’ve been wondering myself with this concept for a while so I decided to write a little something about it, especially now that I think I work in a place where the mere experience of being here justifies my words.

Let me start with a tricky question to get the ball rolling. What are you able to do with money? What is it that drive us so hard to get more and more of it at some point in our lives? Is it a cultural thing, something that you learn to do or something that is innate to our nature? By starting with this simple question I asked myself many years ago I discovered that, well, I needed to ask even more profound questions to even start to figure out the overall idea.

And I’m not talking about existential or metaphysical questions. Just common sense which most of the times is the least common of senses.

So I ask myself, why do I need to work in the first place? Why do you? Is it a survival thing and if such does that make us mere survival beings trying to earn our day to day right to be here?

Too many questions, I know. Pardon me.

I guess what I really want to say, or better yet to share, is that over my almost 40 years of life I think I’ve learned that it is not what you do what defines you, but rather it is you who defines who you are by doing what you like to do. And most importantly, it is a choice you can make, not that it is always a simple one, but a choice nevertheless. And that’s the point.

Unfortunately most of the time our modern world teach us that we are as good as what we can provide as part of the company’s monetary assets. That’s pure capitalism transforming the very meaning of work. So if you follow this trend, as I have done, you are embraced by the system to believe that the more you can provide to the company to increase the sales/stock values, the more valuable you are as well. And in turn, when you can’t provide reasonable assets to the company, then you are not as valuable as others that can.

This has gone to such an extent that people are now “disposable” and even worse, are deemed as mere “assets” or “human currency” by some of the biggest global companies nowadays. You are tradable, and if someone 4000 miles away is cheaper than you, you may be replaced simply because of this number difference on paper.

And don’t get me wrong, I’m not arguing against the elemental facts which sustain the business model. If you are not good for a job, well, you are not good for a job and that simple fact means you may not be suitable to work in that line of business. But when you are suitable, when you are a valuable contributor, and when you are providing more that just earnings to a company, if even when that is the case you are still replaceable and set apart mainly because of what you cost, then something is really wrong with that company’s concept of the value of work.

I think, and it is me of course, that a world driven by these capitalized-human principles may lead people to believe that capital is more important than themselves, and in such a scenario, people are prevented form discovering the real foundation of what work is really all about: people.

When I started to realize that people, in any scenario an spite what any CEO may say, people, are what really matter in the end, I started to think differently about the real meaning of having a job. I started to understand what I should try to focus on when I chose where to work and, more importantly, not to work. I think the real meaning of work from a human perspective (hence the anthropological word in the title) is to embrace an activity that will provide you with your human basic needs, but also something that will dignify you as an individual and that can bring joy and meaning to your existence.

It doesn’t come for free, I have to say. We still sometimes need to work on things we don’t like just to make a living, but again as I said before, we always have the choice to change what we are doing and search for a place to work where we can have enough money, dignity, joy and satisfaction as human individuals who transcend the mere material things we can buy.

Just ask yourself, if you see a guy on the street playing the harmonica for some coins, would you think right away that he is a loser, even if the guy is visibly happy? I’m not saying we all have to be poor or working pro-bono to be happy. I’m just asking, what will you think right away of someone else who is poor by choice or works pro-bono?

At this point in my life, I rather chose a place where I’m eager to go to work everyday because of the great working environment; somewhere where I will feel appreciated even if I’m not a money making machine, a place where I can be myself and at the same time do what I love, even to the point of be willing to go the extra mile. Just because.

And if I ever need to chose a fashion place just for the extra bucks, which may happen out of multiple reasons life sometimes throws at us, then I will. But the important thing is that I already know what my choice is the next time it is entirely mine to make. I think now I know what the real anthropological meaning of work is, and if just that, then I probably learned my biggest and most important lesson for this life.

Touched a nerve?


One thought on “Anthropological meaning of work

  1. It is an inspiring point of view. And I share the sentiment. In the past I had seen a talk by Daniel H. Pink, the author of the book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us”. It was indeed a revelation for me, because there, he delves into the question of whether more money is going to make of anyone a better employee. And then Daniel questions the reasons why some of us do things like learning to play an instrument just for the pleasure of getting good at it. Then he poses the biggest questions, who built Wikipedia, or Apache or Linux, all for free? All this was done by people WHO HAVE JOBS. They did it just for the fun of doing it, for free and gave it away to the world. If a company could just have this kind of motivated employees, the kind of things they could do… The money is important as far as it is necessary to fulfill our basic needs, but certainly working just for the money must be terrible and working for a company in which employees are simply numbers must be an awful experience.Conversely, working in a place where we can do what we love to do and make a contribution by doing it, and being appreciated for it, that’s a whole different story. I leave the link to the video containing the talk of Daniel H. Pink in case you have not seen it before (

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