The Good Tears of Sowing

Second Appointment with Comments by Luigino Bruni on ‘Economy and Advent’

Comments – This is a time for preparing a new harvest

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire on 09/12/2012

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Maybe it is because of the sharp sting felt over the Imu (home tax), for over 2 and a half million Italian citizens who had to sell gold and jewellery in order to make it to go on or perhaps it was the daily spectacle of the institutions and politicians who are just not able to rise to the gravity and seriousness of the times.  For this reason and for many others, this is an advent time marked also by tears.  Yet, one can, and must, hope in a new harvest, even in our Italy: «Those who sow in tears, will reap in joy».

Who knows how many tears over man’s work, and above all women’s, have generated the prayers, the songs, the cries that have been gathered and watched over from that psalm, and from others. Tears are part and parcel of work, they are served daily during meals, so much so that if work did not know tears, that is, sweat and effort, it is probably not work but something else, certainly not something better.  Putting out effort while working is simply part of the human condition.

For this reason, one who does not experience the effort of work because of having incomes and privileges, is denied or denies himself out of self- deception of one of the ethical and spiritual experiences truest of the human condition.  One who is working knows he has really started to work not so much when he receives his first paycheck, but the day he first felt the effort, the hardship, the difficulty of work, and rose above them.  If we stop before the line of fatigue we do not enter in the territory of work, and therefore, we do not gather its best fruit, since felicitas is not the absence of suffering and effort, but its salary.  Notwithstanding the utilitarian culture that wishes to convince us that the objective of good societies is to ‘minimize pain’ and to ‘maximize pleasure’, in reality there exists ‘good pain’ and some ‘bad pleasures.’

Good pains are those that are borne of the cultivation of virtues and work, the bad pleasures are the greater part of what are shown us today as easy hedonistic joys without any effort.

Every excellence, whether in science or in sports, in the arts or in love, requires decisive moments of ‘tears.’  A culture which does not esteem and give value to the work effort, cannot understand or appreciate even the best of harvests, and confuses them with false ones (as in those numerous profits which transpire with injustice, of raided environment and human lives). But not all efforts and ‘tears’ of work are good.’ The ones from slaves and servants are not good, as well as all those which are not accompanied by the hope of a harvest, as it would be when one does not see a ‘child’ at the end of ones’ ‘labour.’ Tears shed by those workers – and there are yet too many in the world – who labor without rights, security, health, respect and dignity.  Or the tears of the very many who have no work because they have lost it, or worse yet, because they have never been able to get one; a suffering that increases during holidays because when there is no work, feast days are more painful than weekdays.

Tears without bread or salt (without salary...) are just tears.  That ancient song about work though tells us something else more important: in order to hope for a harvest it is not enough to cry, one must keep sowing while crying.  If I think about the youth, the students; to sow in tears means to study well and to study hard, difficult things.  The university world in these last two decades of deep ethical crisis has produced too many degree programs without (or with few) tears, presented and chosen because of their light loads, which generated and are generating few ‘harvests’, and too many unemployed.  A young person is formed by studying difficult things, above all, by studying well, and by studying more in times of crisis, as reciprocity towards the community which allows him/her to study notwithstanding the few means available.  Studies done on objective wellbeing of people already tell us with extreme clearness that one of the main determinants for happiness (and of depression) is feeling competent in one’s work, and competence requires discipline and tears, especially by young people.

Even in the world of economy there are many sowers, among whom the entrepreneurs who are investing in times of crisis, who suffer but live their suffering as a fertile experience, as a trampoline  to innovate and walk with lighter feet, maybe together with others.  But if we want the effort of the worker and the entrepreneur to bring the joy of the harvest, an essential role must be assumed by the institutions.  The process going from work to harvest is never a private matter, but a social, collective and political one: we can and must sow with seriousness and commitment, but we control only in part the joy of the harvest, which depends also on those we are directly or indirectly tied to.  Therefore, too many sowings in tears do not know the harvest song.  In Italy, the transmission belt tying the sowing to the harvest needs to be rebuilt.

An indicator of the civil and moral quality of a country should be the relationship between the harvest that arrives in the barns and the good efforts of work done: «Although they go forth weeping, carrying the seed to be sown, they shall come back rejoicing, carrying their sheaves».

 All of Luigino Bruni's comments on Avvenire can be found under Avvenire Editorial.

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