A Little Hardship is a Good Thing

I’ve been working pretty hard, physically, on the project, but I feel pretty good, health-wise. Some periods of hard physical labor, I think, are good for a person from time to time. So, reflecting on this, it occurred to me on the drive to work this morning how much physical labor is NOT in our modern lives. We turn on the faucet, and water comes out, no more hand-pumping or carrying water. We take a few steps to our vehicles, no more walking, no more saddling of horses. We hit a button and the garage door pops open, no more doing that manually. We go through the drive-through lane for some breakfast, no more cooking, no more getting out of the car. Heck, we don’t even have to roll the car window down anymore, just push a button… This all reminds me, disturbingly, of the human characters in the film Wall-E. Corpulent, buoyed along on floating chairs, attended to by machines, sucking on drinks with straws, beholden to the “commodity form”. Here’s a clip in case you haven’t seen the film–

We’re not there yet, but you have to admit that we’re on our way. Most people’s lives (in the “rich” nations, anyway) are so devoid of physical labor that people work hard at their sedentary jobs and then spend the money they earn to pay to go exercise, and to do all the running and lifting that their grandparents would have done just to subsist. Worse, all of this comes at an environmental cost—resource consumption to create, market, and run our labor-saving devices, and then yet more resource consumption to create, market, and operate the machines in the gym.

So, my thought-of-the-day— embrace some of the physical work in your life. Or, as Gandhi put it, “One must learn to enjoy one’s chores”. If there’s a good side to our modern labor-saving devices, it’s that they give us the luxury of doing some picking and choosing when it comes to labor. We don’t have to slave in the mines, we can choose some slightly more fulfilling versions of exertion. My personal choices would be cooking with family and friends (with prep and clean-up, quite a bit of labor, but of the good sort), cutting and splitting firewood (time in the woods, alone or with someone else, fresh air, sunshine…), and gardening. Other people’s choices might be different, BUT— realize that no choice at all will put one on the path to floating-chair-land…

Video: PassivelySedentary, YouTube.