For those of you who believe, as I do, that many of our most troubling problems as a species can be traced back to our ceaseless busyness, our never-ending striving for new skills, experiences, knowledge and possessions, there is a political party out there that has some very interesting things to say.
The credo of the B.C.-based Work Less Party is “Workers of the World – Relax!”, and if you think that this is just a spoof or a frivolous joke, you should consider what the party’s official website has to say: “Every day millions of people rush off to jobs at factory plants to produce televisions sets, cars, computers, and a wide assortment of consumer goods created at a frantic pace.” Many of these products “after an unbelievably short lifespan, end up in landfills and harm the environment and our lives.” Furthermore, “in the process of producing and consuming all of this stuff, we’re making ourselves sick with stress and exhaustion.”
According to an article by career coach Mark Swartz in the April 25th Globe and Mail, statistics indicate that the average working Canadian is today putting in at least 15 per more hours on the job than they did in 1970. This amounts to approximately 1,790 hours per year. In Europe, by way of contast, the 35 hour working week “has been sacrosanct for decades.” According to Swartz, the average number of hours per year that a French employee puts in is 1,560, and in Germany (“the engine of the European Union”), it’s a featherbed 1,450.
One of the Work Less Party’s solutions to this is to advocate a 32 hour work week in Canada. And to make their point about the importance of slowing ourselves down, during the recent B.C. provincial election party workers handed out violation tickets in downtown Vancouver to anyone they caught mindlessly rushing around.
Clearly, our relentless and ungrounded energy is contributing to the reduction of our joy as well as the destruction of our planet. Yet, this energy and drive is fundamental to our humanity. Human beings are doers, thinkers and creators. We are restless by nature, so stagnation and passivity are probably not an option. What we can do, though, is refocus our priorities and redirect our energies in ways that help us lead better, fuller, more engaged and less harmful lives. “Let’s focus,” says Work Less founder Conrad Schmidt, “on devoting less time to production and consumption, and more time to the things that matter most, like music, art, culture, recreation, family and community.”
I think, at this crucial stage in the development of our species, it’s the responsibility of each and every one of us to give some serious thought to the wisdom behind these words.