Satisfaction in Work

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Maybe the positive side of the financial collapse is beginning to show itself. I haven’t seen much in the blogosphere that does not talk about the need to get the consumption machine going. Frank Rich writing his Sunday column in the NYTimes changes this tune a bit—only a bit, but that is still a good turn.

Using Harvard as his source, Rich criticizes Larry Summers for his accepting large sums from financial institutions while serving as President of the University. Perhaps by osmosis, but certainly by example, students ran to the finacial sector.

The Harvard Crimson reported that in the class of 2007, 58 percent of the men and 43 percent of the women entering the work force took jobs in the finance and consulting industries.

But then he turns to the current Harvard President, Drew Faust, who has been encouraging students to seek meaningful pursuits and adds some words from Obama.

Find work you love,” she implored the class of 2008. The “most remunerative” job choice “may not be the most meaningful and the most satisfying… This same note was hit a month earlier by the commencement speaker at Wesleyan University, Barack Obama. “The big house and the nice suits and all the other things that our money culture says you should buy,” he said, amount to “a poverty of ambition.” He wasn’t speaking idly. As America knows, Obama turned down the lucrative career path guaranteed to the first African-American president of The Harvard Law Review to pursue the missions of service and teaching instead.

That leaders at high levels are speaking to young people to find ways to satisfy their concerns (my term for meaningful pursuits) is critical in creating sustainability. Without a shift from the having mode of life, exemplified by the financial world, to the satisfaction of deep-seated human concerns, the individual, social and environmental pathologies are almost surely to persist. For a human being who is flourishing the choice of career is more than something one “loves” to do. (Faust has fallen into the banal way we speak of love. Love is not about doing things; it’s about relationships and respect for the other) Career is the place one takes care of his or her concerns for other, family, and several other of the basic domains of caring. It takes a reading of the whole chapter from my book to make this explicit. Sorry.

In any case, not all Harvard people are so positive that this shift will happen.

One skeptic is Howard Gardner, the Harvard education professor who has created seminars at several elite colleges to counsel students in the notion of pursuing meaningful, ethical and effective work — “Good Work,” as he has titled it. He believes that many students may still be operating on the assumption that the world of finance will just pick up where it left off in a few years. “But we’re not going to be back there,” Gardner told me last week, “and we shouldn’t be back there.”

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