What does it mean to be productive?  Is productivity something to enjoy, strive for, emulate?  Is productivity always good, or can it sometimes be negative?

These questions always puzzle me. On the one hand, my parents and grandparents instilled in me what might be called working class ethics – one always has to work hard, be busy, keep striving to better oneself.  On the other, my Christian faith has taught me that there is value in stillness and quiet. And again, on the one hand our capitalist culture says that we need to strive for more money to buy more stuff so we should work ever harder. But in contrast, my knowledge of the natural world teaches me that everything is seasonal and sometimes you just have to wait.

If I wanted strawberries right now, I would have to obtain sufficient money to purchase imported ones grown overseas. If I wanted garden strawberries I need do nothing more expensive than wait until next June. One option needs finances, the other needs patience.

Are both of these symbols of productivity? Or is one more valuable than the other?  Does it matter that potentially hundreds of people were involved in the business of farming, air freighting and distributing the supermarket fruit, and only me and some weather in the growth of mine? Is productivity measured in wages paid (or contributed to) and money exchanged, or in shear satisfaction of something well earned? Can I even say I earned my home grown strawberries if I have not paid money for them but have only tended, weeded, fed and mulched them?

Of course, most of these are loaded questions. Our answers will depend on a whole host of factors and personal circumstances, just as our individual understanding of our own productivity does likewise.

But, what if you are disabled, for example, or very elderly, or very young? If, as capitalism and working class ethics seem to teach, a person is unable to be productive, does that make them somehow less valid, an ‘in-valid’, to use that particularly loaded and outdated term? Does a small baby have less value than her dad, or a teenager more value than his grandmother?

Or, is it sufficient just to ‘be’?

Is waiting enough? Being, not doing? Knowing that the seasons will turn, given time, and being willing to give them that time? Christianity certainly teaches as much in the story of Mary and Martha.

Productivity can be a good and useful thing. But it should be the means to an end, not the end in itself. To be productive should not be raised on a capitalist pedestal. Instead, seasonality (in all things, not just food) should be respected, and those who wait, rather than do, should be valued as a human being of equal worth.

 

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