Eco-positive language and the boycott of International Labour Day
It’s the 1st of May 2019, a bank holiday. International Labour Day. I’ve decided to finish working on my website and to finally write my first blog post, and as I lay in bed with my laptop I wonder whether I’m working on International Labour Day. Something doesn’t feel right about working today, and I’m almost embarrassed to admit to friends who have invited me over for a drink that I’M WORKING today. To make myself feel better I started thinking about all the reasons why what I’m doing doesn’t count as ‘work’. Five minutes into what felt like my 10 year-old self trying to convince my mother that I hadn’t cut my own hair (I HADN’T), I realised that what I really wanted to do was to look deeply into why I felt the way I did about working today, rather than finding reasons why I could put my choice of writing an article into a different category to that of ‘work’.
So I started by NVCing myself (Non-Violent-Communicating), and clarified the following :
A. When I say to friends that I want to work on International Labour Day
B. I feel embarrassed
C. Because I need social acceptance
Interesting. So, what part of saying to friends that I want to work today is making me feel embarrassed and worried that I may not be socially accepted?
I decided to check the definitions and etymology of the words ‘labour’, ‘work’ and ‘travail’, as I remember a friend mentioning that it had something to do with torture, and indeed the picture isn’t very bright. Some of the definitions I found :
“Productive activity, especially for the sake of economic gain.”
“The body of persons engaged in such activity, especially those working for wages.”
“To perform labor; exert one's powers of body or mind; work; toil.”
“To strive, as toward a goal; work hard (often followed by for )”
“Work, especially physical work.”
“Workers, especially manual workers, considered collectively.”
“Work hard; make great effort.”
"A task, a project" (such as the labors of Hercules); later "exertion of the body; trouble, difficulty, hardship" (late 14c.), from Old French labor "toil, work, exertion, task; tribulation, suffering”
(12c., Modern French labeur)”
“Travail pénible et prolongé : Une vie de labeur.”
“Activité de l'homme appliquée à la production, à la création, à l'entretien de quelque chose
Toute occupation, toute activité considérée comme une charge”
“Douleurs de l'accouchement , tourment”
“Grande dificuldade; trabalheira”
If, after having NVCed myself, I were to psychoanalyse myself, would I come to the conclusion that the reason I felt embarrassed about working on International Labour Day is because ‘work’ and ‘labour’ are generally seen as not being pleasurable, not bringing a feeling of joy, and that a bank holiday is a day when, being freed from the obligation of ‘work’ and ‘labour’, one should engage in pleasurable and joyful activities? My inner Jung nodded. I wanted to take the question further, but as I’m currently keeping my inner Jung at an arm’s length, I decided to look into how I came to feel this way (rather than why).
I’m very interested in the impact language has on us as an ecosystem, and I’ve recently felt very inspired by Professor Arran Stibbe’s work on Ecolinguistics (Ecolinguistics: language, ecology and the stories we live by. Routledge, 2015). Professor Stibbe presents types of story that can shape the way we see and function in the world : the stories we live by. Of the different types of story suggested, three make more sense to me today, in this context :
Metaphors, “a type of framing that uses one area of life to structure another, very different, area of life”
Ideologies, “stories shared by particular groups in society”
Evaluations, “stories about whether an area of life is good or bad”
And so the investigation begins :
If, from an etymological perspective, the words ‘work’ and ‘labour’ are linked to the notion of torture, hardship and pain, has this link shaped the way we perceive work? Has the notion of ‘torture’ been used to structure the world of ‘work’ - is work a metaphor of torture?
Has this metaphor become an ideology shared by a big part of the Western world? Have we built collective discourses to put work in the category of undesirable albeit necessary activities?
If I was to analyse the things we say about work, would I find negative appraisal patterns - patterns of language which present work as difficult and torturous?
Is this story, that ‘work is torturous’ so ingrained in our cultural codes that it is passed down from generation to generation without being questioned?
If we were to question this story, by breaking the metaphor, by analysing the ideology and by re-evaluating the notion of work, what would work actually mean to us? How would we redefine it?
Can work be something we love, cherish and appreciate because it is the thing we have chosen to do, because we are so utterly passionate about what we do, because we have a sense of purpose, because it nourishes our minds, bodies, hearts and souls, rather than starving us of our inner joy?
If this was the case, should we then find a different word for work? If, for example, I was to call it ‘growth’ (therefore inverting the metaphor to a different frame), how would I feel about saying to my friends “Sorry guys, I’m growing today ! We’ll have drinks another day”. A dear friend of mine, Jennifer Vignaud (Réaliser son rêve professionnel grâce au life designing – Guide d’orientation positive. Editions Dunod -Interéditions, 2017), has taught me over the years to follow my heart and to value my work as a gift to the world, and her presence has profoundly changed the way I feel about my work. I found purpose.
And if we were to do the same thing to other areas of our lives, what impact would this have on the relationship we have with ourselves, with others and with the world - on our whole ecosystem ?
I wanted the first article of my blog to be about eco-positive language. I’m not 100% sure about what eco-positive language means, but I feel I’m going in the right direction.
And I’m so thankful that I decided to grow on International Labour Day.
Books and Websites
Ecolinguistics: language, ecology and the stories we live by. Routledge, 2015. Arran Stibbe.
Réaliser son rêve professionnel grâce au life designing – Guide d’orientation positive. Editions Dunod -Interéditions, 2017. Jennifer Vignaud
Simon Sinek: Find Your Why. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vHmayENj6Xg