The Productivity Myth

One of my favorite observations about the human race is that all too often we strive to live up to our name and so it is important to remind ourselves that God created us as human beings not human doings. The trouble with interpreting our lives merely in light of how much we achieve is that we pressure ourselves into thinking that our value lies solely in what we do rather than in who we are. Indeed, some people go so far as to commit suicide once convinced that they simply don’t measure up to society’s standards, however arbitrary and capricious.

Fueling the fire of disillusionment is the prevailing philosophy that more is better or what I call “the productivity myth.” Along with the Industrial Revolution came the era of intrusive time management studies and other methods for extracting maximum output from workers in an effort to increase the overall productivity of mass machinery and manufacturers. The only problem with that, of course, is that man was never meant to function as a machine, and when he does his soul shrivels up in the process.

I recently read an excellent summary of this very phenomenon in the book The Lonely American by Jacqueline Olds and Richard S. Schwartz: “The cult of busyness may be fueled by current customs and technology, but it rests on three sturdy pillars of American life: Calvinism, capitalism, and competitiveness. From Calvinism comes faith that God is smiling on those who achieve material success. From capitalism comes a perpetual hope (realized often enough) that hard work and new ideas will be rewarded. From a reverence for the competitive spirit comes a genuine admiration for winners. These three intertwined ideas have helped create previously unimagined prosperity. They also invite us to try harder, to work longer, to give back (collectively) hundreds of millions of vacation hours each year, to treat each and every day as another day to succeed.”