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Friday, May 25, 2007

A philosophy of work

"One night, just as we were beginning compline, two young boys came from Mott street, hitch-hiking, to pay a call on us at Maryfarm, Easton, 75 miles from New York. They would not come upstairs to the chapel, so while I fed them bread and milk and tomatoes (that was all that was left of supper), I talked to them. One is half Polish and half Italian, and the other Italian. They are both sixteen, smooth-cheeked, round eyed, young, strong and soft. Both have been in trouble with truant officers and probation officers for years. The reform schools are all crowded, accommodating sometimes twice as many as they have room for, so the boys know that there is no penalty for their minor misdemeanors. They merrily go on their way of petty stealing from their mothers and families, hanging around street corners and social clubs, of which our neighborhood is full, loafing, swearing, smoking, drinking--well on their way to more serious crime. The courts are full of just such young ones. How to reach them? They are cynical, they gamble, they want to get rich quick. They play the numbers, the horses. They don’t want a job, because they want big money. They see others making a killing. Everyone wants to get ahead, to be better off. This is what they are taught in the school, public schools and in the Catholic schools. But they are not taught to work--they are not taught a philosophy of work. They are not taught a philosophy of poverty which will make them use their talents rather than seek wages.

Begin at the Beginning

"You'’ve got to begin at the beginning," a priest said to me when I was talking to him about the Carmens and the Pasquales of our acquaintance.

You cannot talk to these boys on religious grounds because they are not convinced there is a God, nor that the Bible is His inspired truth. They don'’t believe in the ten commandments, nor in the Gospel of love of the New Testament. And they don'’t believe because they do not see it worked out in the lives of religious any more than they see it worked out in the lives of lay people. We live in a business world just like everyone else, and we live by investments, usury, big business; by our present industrial system which is materialist and as godless as Communism. So how can we talk to them. It is too late to reach them in ordinary ways. They need a conversion. A shock treatment. They are too old. Only a revolution will change them. That’s why people accept Hitlerism, Fascism, Communism. They accept it like a religious conversion." [snip]

"It is significant that it is in reformatories that boys are taught crafts and trades. It is significant that it is in insane hospitals that the patients, some few of them, are taught to use their hands to do creative work.

But the sad part of it is that though they have these schools, teaching skills, and some learn to do things very well, and probably get great joy out of doing them, they do them with the sad sense of futility, of boondoggling, of having been given something to do because they are either criminal or insane--and not that they are doing things which are good and natural to man that they can continue doing when they get out, creating, making, using mind and body to work on beautiful things God has given man, raw materials He has provided, and in so working on God’'s good things, getting a sense of the sacramentality of life, the holiness, the symbolism of things."

"Reflections on Work - November 1946"
By Dorothy Day
The Catholic Worker, November 1946, 1, 4. Emphasis added.