Friday, February 29, 2008

In Praise of Imbalance

Today is Work-Life Balance Day, one of those happy-clappy events dreamed up by the social partners to help us keep things in (their) perspective.

Personally I find the phrase ‘work-life balance’ moronic. The juxtaposition of the words ‘work’ and ‘life’ somehow implies that the former is the antithesis of the latter. This is intellectually vacuous: life by definition encompasses work (and leisure and family and study and shopping and everything else we do). But then ‘Work-Shopping-Sleeping-TV Viewing Balance’ doesn’t have the same ring about it, does it?

Moreover, there is something unbalanced about such an unhealthy obsession with ‘balance’. Where did that come from? I don’t recall any of the great philosophers fretting about balance. Happiness, fulfilment, contentment sure: but ‘balance’? We seem to have traded ancient insights into the nature of Eudaimonia and the art of graceful living for modern day psycho-babble wrapped in platitudes. A lousy deal indeed.

Worse, there seems to be an assumption on the part of all those fretting about our ‘imbalanced’ lives that we are working too hard. Yet a recent study by the ESRI showed that the Irish enjoy more leisure time than other European countries for which data is available. A new analysis by Davy Stockbrokers shows that the percentage participation of Irish women aged 35-44 in the workforce is the lowest of the original EU-15 countries. In the interest of balance, do the social partners think we should force more of them to get a job?

A silly thought of course, but that’s where you end up with this kind of nonsense. It strikes me that ‘balance’ is something you might aim to achieve over a lifetime (if, indeed, it is something worth achieving), but not over a working week. As Henry Adams famously put it (back in 1910):

Stable Equilibrium is Death.
That’s the kind of balance I don’t mind postponing for another while yet.

2 comments:

  1. Amen.

    I was in Ireland visiting with my wife for two weeks and left this past Sunday (what a wonderful place) and saw the signs for today.

    Life is a great number of choices with which we make decisions about what we do.

    In some cases, our work needs to be 90% of what we do. In other cases, anything can be worth 90% of our waking time. It's our choice and our decision.

    Our decisions about what we do with our choices are what makes up our life. It's not work and everything else, it's just everything and the choice we make.

    Great blog, by the way. Subscribed for a long time...thanks for writing it.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks Scot.

    People often talk about Ireland having to choose between 'Boston or Berlin' (another spurious juxtaposition). I happen to like both cities, but I don't think we need to find a 'balance' between the two either.

    Like you said, people - and maybe cities and societies - get to make their own choices. Like grown ups should.

    Thanks for the feedback on the blog btw

    ReplyDelete

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