The Conspirators of the Work Ethic

Posted: June 8, 2013 in Piano

Quite a title, eh? :) Conspiracies and miracles are similar: they both appear to be real. A conspiracy implies that a group of actors could effectively plan and implement a covert strategy without getting caught. I know very few people who are smart enough to do that. Conspiracy should not be confused with phenomenon. The actions of others often combine independently to produce an outcome which others soon believe was by design. In truth, human actions within a large population occur so rapidly that the activity of that culture can be explained as arbitrary and random. Random actions produce unpredictable results, and as a matter of that outcome, some of the events which occur randomly will fit neatly with other random events. On the surface, it appears as if the coordination of random events was the product of intention. What we believe to be the product of a conspiracy turns out to be a coincidence.  We tend to believe that randomness does not produce clever and productive outcomes. It is far easier to embrace the idea that groups of people knowingly cause events that seem miraculous.

American politicians and leaders often refer to something called the American work ethic. I would like you to think about where this idea originated. Who woke up one morning and decided that Americans needed to have a work ethic? In fact, who decided that we even needed to create a work ethic at all.

If you are familiar with temperament testing, you know that people seek to be self-actualized following four major areas of motivation. The first is work, the other three are knowledge, understanding and image, respectively. David Keirsey refers to these four groups as SJ, NT, NF and SP.  The important feature of Keirsey’s work, as it applies to the conspiracy of the work ethic, is how many people populate each of the four areas. Keirsey supplies those numbers as SJ (37.5%) NT (10.5%) NF (12.5%) and SP (37.5%). The SJ (practical, scheduled) views the world in terms of work. You know many SJs. They love institutions. They do not create them. They are instead joiners who are loyal and committed to the preservation and success of established groups. The NTs and NFs are the creators of organizations, and often they are also the leaders. The SJs are the workers and administrators. They follow protocols and directives. For that reason, they are not always able to adapt to change. The SP, (practical, open-ended) by comparison is motivated to succeed within the institution, but remains open to changes that will be beneficial – not necessarily to the organization, but most certainly beneficial to the individual SP.

So here we have two major groups of people who use work to realize the desire to be self-actualized. The SJ and the SP make up 75% of any population. The former is dedicated to the organization. The latter is dedicated to self, and sees work as a way to achieve status, image or fame. For the SJ, work is a worthy end in itself. For the SP, work is a means to an end.

This does not tell us that work, per se, is intrinsically good or bad. Work is work. The practical view (SJ & SP) holds that you work in order to derive a personal benefit. There are two other views to consider however; the NT and the NF.

The NF is self-actualized through understanding the mysteries of life. Ministers and psychologists are often of the NF temperament. They work just as hard as SJs and SPs, but work is not the first lens they use to view the world. The first lens is understanding. Understanding is the desired goal. Work, compared to understanding, may or may not be necessary. But work, for its own sake, is not absolutely necessary in order to achieve understanding. Therefore the quality of your loyalty and commitment to an endeavor does not guarantee success in acquiring understanding. In addition, when work impedes understanding, it is not considered valuable at all. to an SJ or SP, work is always valuable. to an NF, understanding is primarily important. Work may or may not be necessary to achieve that end.

The NT is the archetype for the military strategists. Where the NF is intuitive (forward-thinking) and personable, the NT is intuitive as a means, and makes decisions based on facts, not necessarily how those decisions will impact people. For the NT, work is something other people do. NTs fulfill a prophecy (their own) or act upon a strategy — but this is not work; it is life itself. To act is to be. To work is to do the bidding of someone else. A general is not a soldier, although all generals were once soldiers. They were soldiers who were strategically planning to become generals.

The NFs and NTs make up 25% of the population, hardly a majority in the creation of the idea of the important of adhering to a work ethic. The SPs employ work as a means to promote their own interests. It is the SJ that maintains and defends the idea of the American work ethic. They are not the conspirators however. The idea of ‘work for its own sake’ is embraced by the SJ, but it is not an idea shared by everyone. A review will illustrate the points I made.

SJ – Work for its own sake.

SP – Work for my sake.

NF – Work if you gain understanding.

NT – Work according to my plan.

The NTs are the conspirators. The SJ is just the worker. As such, the SJ is a visible and vocal defender of the work ethic, so naturally anyone would assume that they are the conspirators. Not true. The conspirators are those who create and strategically manage the system. The SJ is the puppet who dances. The NT is holding the strings.

The irony may not be apparent. The creators of the American work ethic are those who intend that others will do the work, thus making it unnecessary for the creators to work. Work is therefore something someone else does so you do not have to work.

That is the truer restatement of the American work ethic. In order to implement this strategy, you have to be smart. The NT, actualized by knowledge, is the conspirator.




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