Are You a Machine or a Person? Dehumanization and Work-Life Balance

stand in your truth

I can’t count the number of clients with whom I work who are stressed by the excessive demands their jobs make upon their personal lives. Maybe you’re stressed too.

So many companies demand of their employees 50,60,even 80-hour weeks (often without overtime pay) so that the companies can maximize profits by squeezing the same volume of work through a staff reduced by layoffs.

While CEOs earn tens of multiples of income off the sweat of your brow, the personal cost to you includes ceaseless stress, broken marriages, deteriorating health, missing your children’s growing up, and a patch of desert in that place in your chest once called your heart.

But so what? Your very real suffering which keeps you up at night searching for Tums is only the “collateral damage” in the economic war we call capitalism. Mind you, it is not the profit motive which I berate, it’s capitalism’s dehumanizing effect.

Like civilians accidentally killed by a drone operated by a twenty-year-old pushing a joystick thousands of miles away, just as impersonally business treats you as a replaceable machine performing an economic function… but not an irreplaceable, unique human being.

Consider these following comments by former employees about Amazon’s dehumanizing corporate culture. They may be excessive, but to some extent they represent the experience of so many of us as we seek to make a living amid a dehumanizing corporate culture.

Good Amazon employees call themselves “Amabots”. One employee noted about the , “Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk.” A manager reported he regularly worked 85-hour weeks and rarely took a vacation. A woman employee who was berated for taking unpaid leave to attend her dying father commented, “When you’re not able to give your absolute all, 80 hours a week, they see it as a major weakness.” (Source: “Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace”).

My own experience confirms this dehumanizing inversion of values which is so typical of the business world. In my former career, a manager once told me that I was not showing enough dedication to a project when I requested a Friday off to fly down to California to attend the birth of my first grandchild. Happily I flew South, prizing my humanity more than any unnatural value by which my boss could abuse himself.

An especially insidious effect of dehumanization occurs when our own blood and veins begin to morph into wires and electrical currents; I mean when we internalize the dehumanization, and we treat ourselves and each other as objects, not persons.

The ways we can mistreat ourselves as a thing rather than a person are innumerable. When we take care of everything on our to do lists except ourselves and our relationships, we assert what we do is more important than who we are. When we treat ourselves and others without consideration, we have become deadened to each others’ preciousness.

Our final conversion to machine becomes evident when we take pride in how we treat ourselves as objects such as the Amabot who proudly reported that in order to complete a project, “One time I didn’t sleep for four days straight.” I might paraphrase her comment as, “For the sake of Amazon’s profit, I proudly eviscerated my humanity.”

No, the human person does not exist as a sacrifice to be made to the God of Business; business exists for the commerce that provides a passable support for human life.

Still that is too modest an assertion. Instead I would claim that the human being is the paragon of inherent value by which all else is measured, except that one thing asserts itself as even more grand: life itself.

Here I recall the revelation that was gifted to once-famed Albert Schweitzer as he floated upon Africa’s Ogooué River pondering which overarching value was needed to be recognized by civilization. His revelation? Reverence for Life.

“Reverence for Life affords me my fundamental principle of morality, namely, that good consists in maintaining, assisting and enhancing life, and to destroy, to harm or to hinder life is evil.” ~ Albert Schweitzer

Everywhere we witness a lack of reverence for Life – from the rape of nature, to continuous warfare, the corporate board room, and the way we can so casually mistreat each other.

I haven’t the answers as to how to remedy this cultural plague, except to start with myself by asserting my own work-life balance and by trying to treat others and myself with more kindness.

Can we at least each take more responsibility not only for making a living as indeed we must, but also defending our humanity with interpersonal kindness and a work-life balance?

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