Everywhere you look these days, people are ‘working hard’ on social media, telling us about their lives, their jobs, their children and all the many things they do to fill up their time. And when they’re not working hard, they’re spending their time telling us about how hard they’re working, or how much they’ve deserved the break they’ve given themselves from all the hard work.
But what really is work, and why do we do it? Is there even such a thing as working too hard?
I can’t say that I have all of the answers at this point, but I do have several thoughts…
The Rock says work harder
If there’s one person on Earth who represents the living embodiment of hard work and determination, it’s Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. The guy is incredible. Over the last few years, he’s built himself up an impressive catalogue of film and TV credits, alongside product endorsements, awards and much more besides. What’s even more amazing is that he does all this while at the same time presenting a public image of wholesome goodness, with caring compassion, strong family values, and most of all, hard work.
The thing is, as much as I love The Rock and everything he does, his ‘hard work’ persona really does raise some important questions. I mean, can his success just be put down to hard work and smouldering good looks?
Let’s break this argument down into its logical components…
- If [hard work = success] then it must follow that the richest in society are the hardest working.
- If [hard work = success] then the poorest in society work the least.
Of course, both of these statements are clearly false. To follow this same logic:
- If I work as hard as The Rock, I will be as rich and successful as The Rock.
- If I train as hard as Usain Bolt, I will be able to run as fast as Usain Bolt.
It would also follow that:
- If I train just a little bit harder than Usain Bolt, I will become the fastest man on Earth!
Clearly, each of these statements is absurd. The fact is, I’m never going to be as rich and famous (nor anywhere near so cool) as Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. Nor am I going to be able to run as fast as Usain Bolt. So the question then, really, is why do we care and why do we even try?
The things we tell our kids
While I’ve been meaning to write this blog for some time, I was stirred into action the other day by a comment I saw on Twitter. In a post made on Saturday 29th June, author Philip Pullman suggested we shouldn’t be ‘lying’ to our children that wanting something enough will lead to success. This comment stirred up some heated conversation. One of the most interesting replies came from someone I follow:
Now, I have some sympathy with both sides of this debate. Philip Pullman is never going to play the guitar like Brian May or Steve Vai. But equally, most of us are never going to become an award-winning author like Philip Pullman. In this sense, I agree with Pullman’s argument: we create myths around work and lie to our children by telling them that they can achieve whatever they desire if they apply themselves and work hard.
But the thing is, we can’t all be rock stars, footballers, authors or racing car drivers, however much we might want to be. And it’s not just a case of talent or hard work.
The reality is that most people don’t make it simply because the system isn’t set up for everyone to succeed. If we were all footballers, then playing high-level football wouldn’t hold such prestige. Similarly, if we were all rock stars, then there would be no ‘star’ quality for fans to idolise. In a way, we follow these people not just because of their hard work or talent, but because they represent an unattainable goal that most of us are never going to achieve.
So, as much as we all wish we could be as cool and successful as The Rock, 99.9999999% of the time, these dreams simply don’t come true. Is this something we want to tell our children? Probably not, but I do think there needs to be some balance.
What’s important here, is that we all stop and take some time to think about what we mean by concepts such as ‘success’, ‘talent’ and ‘hard work’. Is kicking a ball really a ‘talent’? Why should it be valued more than academic research or writing a blog?
And what do we really mean by ‘hard work’? Clearly, building a bridge is ‘hard work’, but it’s not work done by a single person. But then, how is it different to any other job out there?
The myth of success
What we see here is something of the foundations on which our modern society is built. ‘Success’ here (in capitalistic terms) requires a number of things including talent, skill, determination, hard work, and no small amount of luck. It also requires a certain amount of risk, and requires you doing something that the market values.
The thing is, for every Lewis Hamilton, there are countless others out there that don’t make it, and we never see those who fall onto the scrap heap, for to see that heap would expose the working of the capitalist machine. For this reason, we need hero figures like Lewis Hamilton, Roger Federer, Serena Williams and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, not just as symbols of excellence and as people to look up to, but because without the dream of the success and the myth of hard work, we might all give up and the system would fall apart!
3 thoughts on “Dwayne Johnson and the myth of hard work”
Your article brings up some other significant issues. It has been suggested that autonomy is a core human need (http://selfdeterminationtheory.org). Freedom seems to equate with individuality and seen as a good thing. And yet, as you point out, we are socially constructed and, most of us, conform with societies norms.
The elephant in the room is where does that leave us with surveillance, whether commercial or state based? Is surveillance a good thing or a bad thing? Is it better to have no surveillance and rely on individuals’ self-regulation or to have a state where there is pervasive surveillance to ensure that there is compliance with and (arbitrary) set of rules?
Like so many dichotomies where each extreme appears unacceptable the answer will lie either in reframing or finding an acceptable point between the extremes.
Can philosophy provide an answer? Probably not. What it can do is develop the logic and reasoning so that at least we can at least start asking the relevant questions and identify some guiding principles. Perhaps we need something like the UK Highway Code which provides recommended behaviours in those areas not specifically covered by the law. This aspect of the code is not compulsory but it is taken as a general principal that a person that does not follow the code will have to justify their actions in the case of dispute.
Thanks for your comment. For clarity, I think I should point out for readers that you’re referring to my article on ‘black boxes’ and surveillance published in The Conversation (and elsewhere):
‘Autonomy’ is a very thorny issue. We still don’t quite know what we mean when we use the word, and it’s often applied in different contexts. One area I look at in particular, is the concept of ‘autonomy’ when it comes to soldiers and military ethics, and how this can then be applied to robots and ‘killer robots’. I think I’ve got a few blogs on this issue, plus a few items in The Conversation as well, including:
I think the Rock does work very hard, however there is no way he can look that good (especially at that age) without the use of certain “supplements” .