Work and Personal Dignity

God's original intention for us - to "work the earth" - was not cancelled when, after the fall, we were told:"In the sweat of your face you shall eat your bread." It meant that work would sometimes be a heavy burden, a burden known everywhere to those who work the land, or in mines and quarries, to steel workers, builders, and construction workers, to scientists and thinkers; to those who carry responsibilities affecting the whole of society, to doctors and nurses, and to women who bear the daily burden of housework and bringing up their children.

But work remains a good thing, not only because it is useful and enjoyable, but also because it expresses and increases the worker's dignity. Through work we not only transform the world, we are transformed ourselves, becoming "more a human being." Work, however, can also be used to lessen people's dignity, condemning them to forced labor in concentration camps.

Having looked at work as it affects the person, we must go on to see how it affects the family. Work is a foundation of family life; it is a condition making a family possible, as the family needs earnings normally produced by work. Work affects education in the family, for the very reason that it makes a person "become a human being," the main purpose of any education. The family is an important element shaping the social and ethical order of work, as the church has always emphasized. It is a community made possible by work, and the family is the first school or work.

The family is part of a wider society, a nation, which is through the family the great "educator" of everyone, providing a history and a culture that has been the work of generations. Everyone is thus a member of a nation working to increase the common good of their society and adding in this way to the heritage of the whole of humanity.

Person, family, and the wider society are always important to human work and to the one who works. It is the worker who comes first and not the work. Work is good, and it his contributed in recent centuries to an immense development, yet it should not gain the upper hand, taking away the worker's dignity and rights.

- adapted from Laborem Exercens (On Human Work), by Pope John Paul II, 1981, #9, #10.