Humanizing Work: Talking a Stand for Our Humanity

May, 2005
In this issue:
1. Reader Feedback
2. May Editorial: Humanizing Work: Taking a Stand for Our Humanity
3. Next Month’s Editorial
4. Quote of the Month: George Bernard Shaw

Last Month’s Editorial:

I received more emails from last month’s editorial than any in recent memory. Short but encouraging, the readers seemed to appreciate “The Dream Revitalized & Expanded” and several asked permission to forward to friends. As they say, this piece “has legs.” Thanks also to those who left messages of encouragement and praise. I appreciate it. A reminder: all issues of Better Future News may be forwarded without asking my permission each time. Simply include the entire newsletter, complete with my contact information.

“Newsbriefs” Feedback:

Well the response to my inquiry about “Newsbriefs” was pretty one-sided: most of you subscribers don’t read the “Newsbriefs” posted on my website and few seem to value those in the newsletter. So, I will discontinue posting them on the website and include one or two occasionally in Better Future News. Thanks to everyone for their feedback on this.


The other day I told a thoughtful friend that I was writing a piece on “humanizing” work. He sent me an email prompted by our conversation which stated in part: “things that come to mind are focused on not having the time or resources to do something ‘right’ – good enough, the 80% solution, just get it done – these are the things that take the joy from the job for me. I am forced to complete the work in a way that limits the amount of pride I can take in my accomplishment. If I can’t feel good about my accomplishments…it feels like I’m just going through the motions for the man.”

Other corporate executives have reported to me that they feel they are being asked to work harder and harder, longer and longer hours, and produce ever-increasing results. Still others complain that they aren’t finding much meaning in what they do at work. In other words, people feel pressured, afraid of the consequences if they don’t conform and, on top of that, they are doing less-than-optimum work, “going through the motions for the man.”

This is the type of work that kills people! As I pointed out in an earlier editorial in Better Future News (see Issue #42: January, 2002; “Frankenwork:” Confusing People and Machines), we have created “Frankenwork” whereby we are expecting one another to perform like machines, to constantly produce more with less like we expect from our technologies. In another editorial (see Issue #77: December 2004: Habits That Kill), I pointed to some sobering statistics concerning deteriorating health, increased heart disease, depression and other symptoms of breakdown of the human being when asked to perform like a machine, whether explicitly stated or inferred from the organizational culture. The way we are working ourselves is life-draining!

Frankenwork has come about through slow and steady but subtle influences of the whole economic system we work and live in. We have all made economics “king of the hill.” Millions of us contribute to it and millions of us are responsible for its evolution. In contrast to the story of Dr. Frankenstein and his creature, there is no single villain, no identifiable “bad guys” who are the ring leaders. Sure, there are people who take advantage of the system, manipulating it to their selfish interests. But all of us have been complicit in our own ways of treating each other more and more like machines. Each of us performs as we think we are expected to perform, whether that expectation is a directive or inferential.

Whether we actively conspire in this or sit quietly as part of a “conspiracy of silence” we nonetheless allow legitimacy for the spread of this dehumanization of our work, the dehumanizing of our lives. We are the ones giving away our personal power to the system that we all make dominant and then complain about it. We complain about the very system that we enable and empower.

Since this newsletter is about a “better future,” how do we reclaim life-affirming work for ourselves and stop treating each other as machines so our work in the future is more suitable for human beings? Where do we start?

It begins with taking a stand for our humanity and the positive evolution of our species. It means saying “no” to the pressures originating from the system, pressures that co-opt our humanity. It starts with refusing to treat ourselves as objects, machines or “resources.” As we open ourselves to this possibility and let go of past patterns of behavior, we can relate to others more authentically, more powerfully and with greater dominion as fellow human beings. It can begin in our workplaces, insisting upon life-affirming corporate cultures and authentic relationships with one another.

To change the way we work, we first need to understand the dynamics of what we are doing and take responsibility for it. Blaming others for the conditions we have tolerated does not move us any closer to making the changes we want to see. We need to overcome old habits and get smarter and wiser about the effects of our own actions and attitudes. The “old dogs” need to learn “new tricks,” like it or not.

While I was thinking about this editorial and starting to write it, my latest issue of Worthwhile magazine arrived. “Quite timely” I thought to myself and started perusing it. The May 2005 issue features a story of a Coca Cola senior executive who took a year off to explore himself. Another story featured a New York headhunter whose life changed dramatically on 9-11, when he was jolted out of his stupor of chasing the bucks, thus bringing him new fulfillment. These are stories of human beings learning “new tricks” and reclaiming their humanity.

We have created extremely complex systems all around us and have stubbornly insisted on dealing with them with Industrial Age consciousness. Since we created these complex systems we possess the power to change them, re-create systems that honor life and humanity.

Have we fully evolved as humans? Is this the “end game” for our species? Obviously not.

We still have a ways to go to discover what it means to be fully-evolved conscious beings. To feel everything that humans can feel completely and with all the intensity that we were meant to experience. To possess the wisdom that ancient cultures seemed to have and that Nature teaches us almost every day. And to enjoy the human niceties and delights that machines never require but we absolutely do if we are to maintain our humanity and consciously evolve.

NEXT MONTH’S EDITORIAL: Asking Forbidden Questions

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him. The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself. All progress depends on the unreasonable man.” – George Bernard Shaw
Keynotes That Make You Think!

John’s main work these days is giving talks, particularly keynotes. He is available to address companies, associations and groups of all types. A list of his topics can be viewed at Keynotes That Make You Think! For references: What people have said about John as a speaker.

About John Renesch

John Renesch is a San Francisco writer, business futurist, and international keynote speaker. His latest book is Getting to the Better Future: A Matter of Conscious Choosing.

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John Renesch

John is a seasoned businessman-turned-futurist who has published 14 books and hundreds of articles on social and organizational transformation.

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