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Thursday, 25 May 2017

“Forged in Fire” and the importance of finding meaning and purpose in your life: doing something that makes a difference for yourselves and for others

One of my favorite TV shows of these days is the show “Forged in Fire” on the History channel:

Strong, rugged-looking and often bearded professional and amateur bladesmiths –  almost always men I must confess – are hammering, bending, welding, polishing and grinding on red-hot steel, like the devil is on their tail. In the process they create hunting knifes, switch-blades, swords, sabres and other old-fashioned battle blades that put a greedy smile on the face of every would-be hunter and knight-in-shining-armour.

In the end, these newly created and beautifully looking weapons are tested under the most gruesome circumstances, by hammering and stabbing them into big animal bones, pig bellies, gelatine dummies, metal sheets and unforgiving blocks of ice. And as a piece-de-resistance, sometimes even a bullet is fired at the edge of the sword blades to see if these survive this kind of torment and cleanly split the bullet in two or three pieces.

The winner earns $10,000 in the end, while the losers get compliments and constructive criticism from the strict, but fair and very savvy jury members.

This show is perhaps nostalgia, but with an important twist. It is very popular and appeals to a lot of people, as it brings back memories of times in which people were much more self-supporting and responsible for the things they created, than nowadays.

As a matter of fact, it seems that almost all these “documentary channels”, like History, Discovery and National Geographic are currently built around rugged and seemingly unadapted men and women, standing with one foot in untamed nature and with the other foot in a workshop, where they perform old-fashioned handicrafts, which are normally done by robots, computers and fully automated and industrialized processes. 

It is interesting for me to see it happen and I wonder why these shows like Forged in Fire, Alone, Dual Survival, Mythbusters, Mountain Men and many, many others are so extremely popular nowadays.  

This is what I think: nowadays most working people are little more than tiny cogwheels in a much bigger manufacturing or administrative process and they often have nearly zero percent influence on the endresults of the company or government body, where they spend their daily working hours.

On top of that, the executive management of many companies and government bodies have started in the past to treat their personnel as (to their eyes very unreliable and expandable) durable production devices: necessary tools to perform their daily business, but nevertheless something that they want to replace by automatized and robotized means of production as soon as possible. 

Robots can work 24-7 and never complain or strike, never require more salary or wages and never find something too difficult. Until that moment of full replacement their personnel will do, but this personnel is not so appreciated anymore as a few decades ago: rather a drag than an asset.

The people, on the other hand, in their current (slightly) undervalued and underused state get a yearning for doing and creating things that really matter for themselves and for others. And the more futile and unimportant their own work seems, the stronger this yearning becomes, as an outlet valve to mitigate the loss of control, meaning and purpose in their own lives. To these eyes this explains the enormous popularity of all these ‘rugged men and women in nature and workshop programs' on the documentary channels.

But why is this phenomenon worth an article? The Dutch newspaper Trouw came yesterday with an interesting observation about current time jobs and how the circumstances at the job can cause mental illnesses like burn-out, depression and other job-related affections. Here are a few snippets of this very good article:

On 18 December 2013, the Dutch ‘Philosopher of the Motherland', René Gude, talked with the Belgian phychoanalyst Paul Verhaeghe about burn out and depression as widespread societal diseases. Verhaeghe stated that stress is the main cause of mental problems. And work, he added, is the main cause for stress...

Interesting is that Verhaeghe – wellknown from his bestseller ‘Identity’ (i.e. ‘Identiteit’ in Dutch) – stated that stress is not a psychological problem, from which individuals can be freed, but a societal problem. The question at hand is how we – collectively – created and set up our working environment and everything in it?

That night Gude stated that the problem about which Verhaeghe talked, was a problem of (missing) meaning and purpose [in life and work - EL]. Gude:’When a society, even when people want the best for each other, does not find a destination automatically, then target, meaning and purpose need to be taken in their own hands by the collective’.  

Based upon research and clinical experience the experts were all convinced that the problems, regarding people falling-out of the labour process, are structural and they are connected with the labour organization within a broader societal context. Paul Verhaeghe: ”It is necessary to kick in this open door, as on the workfloor the opinion persists that a burn-out is an individual problem. 

People with a burn-out, so is the misguided common idea, are people with little inner strenght. Such a common idea quickly turns into an implicit accusation by their peers and managers: ‘You are the weakest link. Goodbye!’ ”.

Also Verhaeghe thought that finding meaning and purpose on the job could be a solution for this problem. “But you must realize that finding meaning and purpose is a collective task and as such the opposite of individualization. This means that courses in meditation or mindfulness – which are aimed at the individual alone – are NOT the required solution to fight depression and burn-out”.

Finding and giving meaning and purpose, is where people should find the solution, according to Verhaeghe. Why?  Verhaeghe: “People experience their job as not being meaningful anymore, as it gets more and more divided in tiny bits and pieces that don’t have a meaning and a purpose by themselves. And they also don’t bear the final responsibility for the endresult anymore. 

Loss of responsibility over the big picture, in combination with the ongoing individualization, leads to loss of meaning and purpose”.

This is a bold and meaningful statement in this article and it is important to keep it in mind when you look at your own job.

Does your job make sense to you and do you produce something really meaningful in it?! Or are you just the producer of an endless flow of administrative / computer data or other utterly futile products, without a deeper meaning for the human race. 

Products and data, that are not interesting anymore in the near future: for nothing and nobody. And that are only produced for the purpose of getting to know more about the habits and thoughts of other people, in order to sell them useless stuff. Or for the purpose of fulfilling the immediate needs of spoilt and impatient people with more money than time to spend.

And are you the captain of your own ship, or just a simple cogwheel in an infinite jobflow, with no beginning and no end... no meaning and no purpose?! Will somebody miss you when you would immediately end your job? Or are a dozen people ready to replace you at the spot, without anybody noticing it?!

Are you constantly chased and haunted by the fear for computers and robots, who can perhaps do your job better than you can eventually?! And does that keep you awake at night, asking yourself if “this is it and life does not have anything else for you to offer, except for your family and loved ones?!

People should start to ask themselves such difficult and painful questions and they should perhaps act accordingly to the answers they give themselves.

I think that this is one of the reasons that the aforementioned shows on the documentary channels are so immensely popular. Men and women there are busy with the creation of meaningful and very palpable things and they are involved in doing it themselves from start to finish, bearing the whole responsibility from the cradle to the grave. No excuses, no others to blame. 

You either win or or lose, but the destination and the satisfaction in the end is always worth the travel and the hardship underway. 

Of course it is impossible for everybody to do bold and difficult things like these guys and girls on the History Channel. Nevertheless, people should try to find more meaning and purpose in their own work and life, instead of simply reeling in the years and stowing away the time

And please think sometimes about these heroes on the History channel. There is not a wonderful bladesmith in everybody… but there must be a job for everybody that brings back the meaning and purpose in one’s life. And also the feeling of utter satisfaction and happiness, when things go well. Everybody deserves such feelings.

Bladesmiths! Start your forges and hammer on!!!

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