Experience of Creative Work

When it comes to labor, it is primarily valued as a means of economic gain. Sadly, the social and political possibilities are shadowed by the drive to material comfort. Lacking foundation based on higher spiritual things, the worker chooses a mental complacency. Instead of mimicking God in universal creativity, we can be resigned to passivity in someone else’s created world. Then the ironic mindset follows of feeling trapped with little to no sense of worth or freedom in our lives.

Experience is a key source of knowledge. Labor is one having the opportunity to create. Now, I can imagine people arguing that most workers do not have such opportunity, that only those with wealth have this liberty. Well, we have a choice. Exercise our God given abilities to create in spite of circumstance. Perhaps, we should just surrender to the preferences of others. To do the first requires the individual to form community, as they learn to be creative beyond their comfort zone. The second is to be personally or collectively content with whatever others make, though be disatisfied by the shared mediocrity.

An educated worker is a creative person with growing skills and social circles. Their knowledge surpasses the task at hand, connecting with others to create more for whatever common cause. This could be individual and/or group opportunity, whether it be acquiring resources and/or enriching the relations of a community. People tend to foregt that those of economic wealth possess their own social circles, far more often than not persist in developing their own creativity. I do not make this as a promotion for how to become materially rich. Modest or lavish, a person is divinely created to live in dignified freedom.

Book learning is of no inferior value, unless it does not coincide with labor, manual/mental, which is putting creativity into practice. Following the emancipation of Negro slaves in the United States, even as second-class citizens, black folk had unprecedented chance to actively cultivate their present. Many individuals took their labor skills outside their localities, relocating to acquire knowledge in communities that would receive them. Others managed or had to stay put, combining resources to improve their homes. Yes, the handicap of slavery smothers souls from existing outside of subsistence. On the other side in freedom, it must be of a people’s culture to labor for basic needs, along with creative endeavors. Risk and responsibility are no light weights to bear. In fact, a free educated worker grows to carry more, especially in good company.

In chapter 10 of Booker T. Washington’s “Up from Slavery,” the majority of the fledgling Tuskegee Institute’s students were of the impoverished plantations. Trained in innovative domestic, agricultural, and industrial skill, “the students themselves would be taught to see not only utility in labour, but beauty and dignity . . . how to lift labour up from mere drudgery and toil, and would learn to love work for its own sake.” Trial and failure ensued. Suriving the risks taken for building the institution’s infrastructure, including a brick kiln, the locale as well as many parts of the South likewise grew from the creative excellence across studies/industries rendered by the student body. Social/cultural relations between white and black became more cordial, due to the multiplying intertwining interests.

In chapter three’s conclusion of “The Souls of Black Folk” by W.E.B. Dubois, Washington was criticized for seemingly discouraging academically capable blacks from wanting to pursue the position of political office, considering civil injustice being a violent reality for Negro citizens. The educational methods of Tuskegee were rooted in Washington’s realism. Formal political power could be taken from any man; it would not be a crippling blow to an experienced knowledgable people. How many souls possess a university education only to be pathetically ignorant, becoming dependents and perhaps lower tyrants in their social-political circles?

“Our greatest danger is that in the great leap from slavery to freedom we may overlook the fact that the masses of us are to live by the productions of our hands, and fail to keep in mind that we shall prosper in proportion as we learn to dignify and glorify common labour and put brains and skill into the common occupations of life; shall prosper in proportion as we learn to draw the line between the superficial and the substantial, . . . Nor should we permit our grievances to overshadow our opportunities.” [He proceeds follows with a direct push for white Southerners to cast in their lot with the formerly enslaved population, whom have been demonstrably loyal and productive].

from: The Atlanta Exposition Address – Booker T. Washington (1895)

Black denizens in the United States were as a whole believers of some form of Christianity. While they had earthly masters, there was a supreme Master. God had also made them for educated labor. The majority, even unsure of how or where, desired creative community life not restricted to menial regimentation. Skilled workers were no less anxious to set their trades beyond personal wage, for freedom would be more realized when efforts were joined with others to create in the world something distinct from what their masters/employers owned. A non-believer, Dubois still had this to say at the turn of the century:

“In the Black World, the Preacher and Teacher embodies once the ideals of this people, – the strife for another and juster world, the vague dream of righteousness, the mystery of knowing; but to-day the danger is that these ideals, with their simple beauty and weird inspiration, will suddenly sink to a question of cash and a lust for gold. . . . What if the Negro people be wooed from a strife for righteousness, from a love of knowing, to regard dollars as the be-all and end-all of life?”

from: chapter 5 of The Souls of Black Folk (1903)

The concern “Mammonism” would take precedence over spiritual values is indeed something to address. Washington, unlike Dubois, did prize the faith. In chapter 8 of his book, he makes it clear, “The school is strictly undenominational, but it is thoroughly Christian, and the spiritual training of the students is not neglected.” I lean towards vocational education as a preferable means for the majority over higher education. Meanwhile, I am made vigilant by Dubois’ warning. Indeed, it is of a contrasting perspective, though it is still one to be mindful. If we labor for man or Mammon, are we not menial slaves if not pretend masters seeking dominance? Not all men can be supreme. Mammon makes food out of men. Freedom and dignity can become perilously precarious things in mortal hands.

“Man, as we have seen, lives by communion with God through the Divine creative act, and is perfected or completed only through the Incarnation, in Christ, the Word made flesh. True, he communes with God through his kind, and through external nature, society in which he is born and reared, and property for through which he derives sustenance for his body; but these are only media of his communion with God, the source of life – not either the beginning or the end of his communion.”

from: chapter 15 of The American Republic – Orestes Brownson (1865)

“The Lord God then took the man and settled him in the Garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it. The Lord God gave man this order: “You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; the moment you eat from it you are surely doomed to die.” The Lord God said: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him.” . . . The Lord God then built up into a woman the rib he had taken from the man. When he had brought her to the man, the man said: “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; This one shall be called ‘woman,’ for out of ‘her man’ this one has been taken.””

Genesis 2:15-18, 22-23

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