THE VALUE OF WORK IN A PERSON’S LIFE

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HaloulakosDr. V.E. “Bill” Haloulakos  is Aerospace Science Consultant/Professor,  AIAA National Distinguished Lecturer and Legacy Member and a Distinguished Engineering Educator Award Winner


Work is the most valuable aspect of a person’s life.
It is what gets things done.
A person involved in productive work is a very happy person. Idleness is not a natural state of human life.
Invariably idleness leads to criminal activities that harm both the persons involved in it as well as the Society at large. Work renders human life very meaningful.

ERG is the basic unit of measuring useful work in the basic Physics centimeter-gram-second (cgs) system. It is derived from the Greek word for work, ERGasia, although some may say that it is derived from enERGy or ERGon, but all are Greek words so the distinction is immaterial. It is interesting to note, however, that the word commonly used in the spoken Modern Greek language for work is not ergasia but douleiá. It should be noted that the accent is on the last vowel “á”. By contrast it should also be noted that if the accent is moved over to the left over the previous vowel “í”, i.e. douleía, then the meaning becomes slavery! It is of special interest to note that Modern Greek language dictionaries contain both of these words, one for work and one for slavery, but dictionaries of the ancient Greek language contain only the word for slavery, i.e. douleía, and also contain the word ergasia for work. We, therefore, must conclude that the modern word douleiá, meaning “work”, must have been adopted later in history. Is it possible that it was adopted during the years of Ottoman (Turkish) occupation to denote the servitude to which the Greek people were subjected by their Turkish masters? This writer would welcome some expert historian etymologist to shed some light on this issue.

Be as it may, work is not a highly valued activity in the common Greek culture. The common feeling is that one works because he needs to do so in order to get food on the table. In other words work is for the poor people. We may not go as far as accepting Professor Featherstone’s of the London School of Economics opinion, who in a March 7/8 Wall Street Journal issue op-ed by Steven Fidler, talked about German Thrift and Greek Victimhood as the main cause if today’s economic problems facing Greece. But we should perhaps accept the fact that people and the government in Greece need to alter their thoughts about the value of work in a person’s life and not considering an activity becoming of only people in need…

We will dispose of this issue of whether the Greeks like work or not by listing a number of personal experiences this author had in Greece and with encounters with Greeks. By way of background, this author grew up in a farming family of ten about eight kilometers outside Gytheio in the region of Mani, where from early childhood has known nothingelse but work, work and work. Work that always had a tangible, definite and valuable goal. We planted and picked crops and tended to animals on a daily basis. Personally, I did all those tasks and in between I had to find time to walk to school one and a half hour each way, each and every day, six days a week for the four years of the Nazi occupation. After high school, in 1949, as a cadet of the Greek Air Force Academy (Scholi Ikaron) I came to the United States for training and while here I was totally immersed into the American military life. I was so much accultured by it so that when I went back, less than a year later, I felt strange there! So strange that I immediately set forth plans to return to the USA and here I am…

One of my very first and unforgettable impressions was that in America work is not a shame!” and working was considered an honorable and respectful act. I recall my Greek friends laughing when I was telling them that. More than 20 or thirty years later I recall some conversations, while visiting Greece that went as follows: You live in America? Yes I do. Did go to the University? Yes I did. Did you get a diploma? Yes, I got three. …And you still work? Yes, I do and I am enjoying it very much… This would cause a variety of remarks, none of them very complementary, the idea being that once you elevate yourself via education you perhaps should not need to work… Not much thought was given to the idea that if educated persons did not work in their fields after study then who would do all these things like designing rockets that took us to the Moon and Mars?

At one time I recall talking and explaining to a young college student some stuff that former NY Governor Nelson Rockefeller was doing and he promptly asked me “This Rockefeller, is he part of The Rockefeller Family? Yes he is. And he works? Yes, he does! But why, he is so rich!”. To quote the well-known Reaganesque remark…THERE YOU GO AGAIN….

On a more recent communication, a friend who after graduating from the Athens Polytechnic (Metsovion Polytechneion), who came and got a PhD from the University of Iowa, went back to Greece and he is now holding a job with the public (civil) service. He works like he learned in America and he has become the joke of the place.

All these, somewhat, personal experiences to indicate that there is something deeply rooted within the Greek psyche that causes this disdain for the concept of work…

Perhaps this attitude toward work has its origins back to the ancient days. There have been numerous writings that Aristotle, the Great Philosopher himself, was not very fond of manual work, especially one that causes the hands to get dirty. He preferred to do things and solve problems by deep thinking. So much that he tried to explain the laws of gravity via his deductive logic and his syllogisms for which he is so famous. He did not believe in conducting experiments, so naturally he set forth some very erroneous laws of gravity and because HE The Great Aristotle had said so, it held physical science back for 2000 years! Over and over some daring individuals would propose something different but they would immediately be shot down with the perennial question.

HAVE YOU NOT READ ARISTOTLE?
All this, until Galileo dropped his stones from the Tower of Pisa and proposed the correct laws for gravity and was so famously chastised by the Vatican and the Holy Inquisition who were great believers in the Aristotelian Science Model. But Galileo was followed by Sir Isaac Newton and, as we say… the rest is history!

A rather large number of the civil servants in Greece are constantly preoccupied about how fast they can retire, start collecting their pension and live the life of leisure. This is

the case even among the young ones. This is such a widespread phenomenon that it probably will require changes in the education system in order to alter the young people’s thinking about the value of work, i. e. the value of ergasia and not douleiá, and it would be great if this last word could be eliminated from the Greek lexicon. After all the Greek Government has a Ministry of Ergasia and not one of Douleiá in its bureaucracy.

When Greece joined the European Community at the end of 1980, I was in my hometown and just about everyone I knew would ask me what it would mean for them. When I said “I do not know” they insisted that I say something and after a bit of thought I came out with the “horrible” opinion that it probably meant the end of their customary “mesimeriatico”, i. e. their siesta. My reasoning was that while there was 1:00 PM in Greece when business closed for lunch and siesta, it was 11:00 AM in London and the English would want to do business, so they would need to be available.

Belonging to the EU is probably a big advantage for a small country like Greece and I am sure that this is why they joined it. Belonging to a club, however, has its requirements that once a member one must be able to find his “nitch” inside the club. It would not be possible or practical, for example, for the Greeks to built Mercedes-Benzes or BMWs, nor would they probably want to work in those German factories all their lives, but they could, perhaps, become the world’s top experts in servicing the German autos as well as many of the other German industrial products as well. Perhaps, they could manufacture spare parts for the German industrial products and they may just be able to do it at a lower cost than the Germans themselves. The Middle East is full of such products and because of its geographic location Greece could perhaps gain a monopoly in such a lucrative activity. But, and there is a big but, they will need to dedicate themselves to hard work with a passion, learn and strive to remain competitive, for there will always be others who would want to enter the same business.

The Greeks have the knowledge, the drive and the capacity to be competitive, efficient and successful if they apply themselves and believe in the cause. All one needs to do to verify this is to take a look at the Greek migrants to other countries, such as Australia, Canada and the USA where they all thrive almost without exception. But it should be noted that in those environments the Greeks of the Diaspora work within and under the system of those countries and not the one prevailing in Greece. They have adapted to the local competition environments and they do not look at work as douleiá but ergasia and there’s no siesta!

NOTE: I passed this article to a PhD friend who teaches philosophy at a Canadian University and received the comment on the Aristotle reference shown below.

Very nice article.
It speaks to the Protestant Work ethic. Funny enough last
term I taught a course on the Philosophy of Leisure. I
covered similar territory especially with Aristotle’s
Nicomachean Ethics where manual work is not valued for
it is seen as ponos (pain) but intellectual work is extremely
valued for the attainment of eudaimonia (happiness).

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