A Final Musing: Violence of a Work Ethic

A few months ago, I came across this quote from Thomas Merton: On Violence

There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. 

To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. 

The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.

from Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander by Thomas Merton

Here it is again in convenient, sharable meme format:

This idea has been nibbling away at me for the past few months. I’d forgotten I wrote about this very thing, even using the same Merton quote, seven years ago. You can read The Violence of Busyness here.

Seven years ago I was in the midst of getting out my memoir’s second edition, correcting the typos that had been missed and learning to use Scrivner at the same time. A rather masochistic combination in hindsight (but then, as I said then, hindsight is never there when you really need it)

Once again, but for very different reasons, I feel Merton’s “rush and pressure of modern life.” I feel, viscerally and often, the demands on my time and the loss of the serenity I so greatly value in my life.

I’ve given away my chickens; surely that counts in my favor. But then we added a puppy to the mix.

Have I succumbed to violence?

I recognize I’m living life at a new, more frenzied pace, and I acknowledge activities I have given up as a result. This is a choice I made, last year; and it will continue another year or two, at least.

My new responsibilities as host and sponsor, committee chair, board member, and puppy owner, are crowding out other roles I’ve loved over the last ten or so years. Like that of writer.

Alas, my blog has fallen victim.

I don’t believe it is merely a matter of shedding obligations. For me, it is a matter of choosing the attitude I bring to each obligation and the space I allow between obligations.

In short, I’ve decided that my blogging must take a back seat; no longer will I hold to a strict weekly schedule. Instead, I’ll post only when I feel I have something new to say, something that might challenge our way of thinking, our accustomed way of seeing the world. That remains my mission, in so many areas of my life.

And I want very much to reconnect to what Merton called that “root of inner wisdom” that makes work worthwhile.

How about you? How do you juggle competing demands on your time and energy? Can you relate to Thomas Merton’s idea as this being a type of violence?

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19 Responses

  1. Darlene Foster
    | Reply

    There are only so many hours in a day. We have to use them wisely. All the best. Hope you pop out a post once in a while just to keep in touch. xo

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thank you, Darlene. I just renewed my domain for two years, so I hope to pop in (pop out?) now and then. But it feels good to not “have to.” I’m glad we’ve made a connection via our writing.
      Janet Givens recently posted…A Final Musing: Violence of a Work EthicMy Profile

  2. Barb Piscopo
    | Reply

    Thank you for the simple and insightful blog, Janet! Special thanks to Thomas Merton for framing modern life in such a perfect way. It has caused me to pose this question to myself: in an effort to do so many good things for others, have I done harm to myself?
    Rather than attempt a long answer here just to make myself feel better and answer the question, I think I will just ponder the question for a while. I’ll let you know my answer when the time is right.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thank you Barb. I look forward to hearing that story when the time is right.

  3. Merril D Smith
    | Reply

    Good luck and continued joy and success with all you’re doing, Janet!
    Merril D Smith recently posted…Embrace the BeautyMy Profile

  4. Marian Beaman
    | Reply

    You’re smart to recognize your limits and prioritizing what’s important. My volunteerism ended last spring for obvious reasons, and I doubt I’ll pick it up again even after the threats of the virus subside.

    I just read Judith Valente’s How to Live, a book about the Benedictine attitude toward work and resisting the pressure of obligation. Best wishes in seeking a more balanced life, Janet!
    Marian Beaman recently posted…Mennonite Man Crafts a Valentine MenuMy Profile

  5. Joan Z Rough
    | Reply

    I think we all take part in this violence. I’ve let my blog go and am spending lots of time making visual art just for me, which makes me very happy. Also lots of reading. No deadlines, no have tos, just want tos.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      You are a pioneer, Joan, as we tread our way along this new path, this new (for many of us) way of looking at obligation. We know it can be done. I’m glad we’ll had a chance to meet.
      Janet Givens recently posted…A Final Musing: Violence of a Work EthicMy Profile

  6. Maureen Haggerty
    | Reply

    Serenity, take time to smell the roses. Best wishes and happiness on reorganizing priorities for your inner peace Janet.

  7. Kathleen Pooler
    | Reply

    Janet, I’m right there with you, my friend. Although I feature other writers, I only blog when I feel I have something to say. It’s taken a while to give myself permission to back off. We all have to find what works for us. You have much on your plate, not the least of which is a new puppy. 😊 Enjoy what’s in front of you. You’re wise to honor your needs.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Yes, to give ourself permission! That was my final hurdle too. You have a powerful voice with important messages and I’m always very glad to see a new post from you. Unfortunately, I’ve pulled back from commenting too. I miss those conversations around your kitchen table. Hugs to you and yours.
      Janet Givens recently posted…A Final Musing: Violence of a Work EthicMy Profile

  8. Tim Fearnside
    | Reply

    Congrats, Janet, on this realization and decision. I understand completely, probably better than most, as someone who’s long battled with modern life’s ceaseless demands and expectations. And yes, some of it is the result of choices we make, but somehow, technology, automation, pace, bureaucracy, legalism, and other factors have combined/conspired to make modern life a seemingly bottomless and heaping meringue of busy-ness. I could point to ten examples this week alone. And yes, it feels oppressive, at least to me, perhaps even “violent” to an extent. Anyone who makes conscious choices and decisions to push back against this onslaught and fight to retain some semblance of balance and sanity has my respect, because I know it isn’t as easy as it sounds. I’ll still follow along with the blog whenever you choose to post. Best, – T

  9. Pamela
    | Reply

    The busyness is a conundrum. On my walks during this pandemic I have waved “HI” across the paths and people have shouted out “isn’t this horrible? I’m so BORED!” I’m horrified. How can anyone be bored, when there is so much to do? So yes, I see some of my friends get too caught up in their life’s passion – fighting oppression and the wrongs of society, getting bleary-eyed and too upset and not stopping to smell the roses – or watch the snow. But that’s still much better than those I hear who just watch TV all day, get upset at the talk show hosts, drink/eat too much junk, and bemoan what an empty life they live. So, better busy and than the opposite. Me? I do get upset with myself when I wake up in the morning thinking of all the things I need to do – my teaching schedule, my writing, my blogging, my ‘helping out’ with the grandchildren once in a while, etc etc. But I love everything I do, so that’s a huge plus. I’ll miss your weekly presence here, Janet, but will enjoy those times you do check in. Just never check out! 🙂
    Pamela recently posted…A New RealmMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Pam. It’s always nice to have you stop by. I’m working on the story of when I was accused of human trafficking by a bank teller who’s known me over ten years. I think it might attract an audience, though I don’t want to make light of the tragedy of human trafficking. 🙂 Maybe sometime in April.
      Janet Givens recently posted…A Final Musing: Violence of a Work EthicMy Profile

  10. Ally Bean
    | Reply

    I wondered what had become of you and now I know. Blogging is one of those wonderful activities that can be adapted to your life in ways that work for you. Case in point.

    In answer to your question: How do I juggle competing demands on my time and energy? I suppose the honest answer is I’m selfish. I do that which I believe will keep me healthy. That’s my priority. I do what I want to do as long as I have an end in mind [a la Covey] and can plan how I’m going to do things. If I can see that a project isn’t in line my priority, I have no problem saying NO.
    Ally Bean recently posted…In Which I Answer Five Brilliant Questions, OutstandinglyMy Profile

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