On blurring the lines of ‘work-life balance’

I can’t help but feel the hard line distinction between personal and professional is contrived and oppressive – as if they are sealed off from each other and we must have split personalities (and even multiple phone numbers, email addresses, clothes, jargon, etc. to operate in them.) In visiting Africa what I found was that nearly everyone I met ‘worked’ ~16 hours a day, every day of the week, but that the distinction between work and home life was often blurred beyond recognition. Mothers had their kids with them, from nursing babies to pre-teens, on the job. People constantly took breaks, sometimes for several hours at a time, to have coffee with friends. At a glance they might look like slackers, drifting down the slow river of Africa Time and going nowhere. But I didn’t meet a single person on my trip who wasn’t hard working, and many as competent and kind (or more) than any I’ve encountered in the West. I suspect one could squeeze a bit more GDP out of them by chaining them to a clock and punching in and out, but only at terrible cost.

This cost has been with us sharply for a good century like a cilice that’s been strapped on so long, we no longer feel the spikes. People from nearly every quarter have realized this is a problem and talk of “work-life balance” is frequent now. The problem with much of this talk is first, that it assumes the two things are finite and distinct, and second, that one has the ability to ‘balance’ these by an exertion of will. Probably the only thing that can abolish this toxic relationship between servant and master is trust – trust that can grow into friendship. This is still possible on a small scale today, but quickly become impossible when the masters are beholden to shadowy ‘shareholders’.

I could develop this some more, but I don’t have a particular place to go with it at the moment. I guess it will have to stand as an anecdote.