Is Choosing Not to Work Healthy?

As I travel around during the day I often observe more and more young men standing on street corners or on freeway on-ramps holding cardboard signs asking for money.  The signs don’t appear to have any reason for requesting money other than they just want money.  The men don’t appear to be disabled or even particularly poor.  A surprising number of people always stop and give them money as they go by.

I’m all for helping people in need out (and in fact donate a significant portion of my income to charities), but it always feels like an affront to my masculinity when I see a hale and hearty young man begging for money.  I’d rather give them food than money, but the times when I have offered to buy them something to eat have been met with a less than an enthusiastic response.

 I’m sure there are a plethora of reasons why these young men choose to panhandle instead of working for a living.  Some of the reasons might even be good excuses (although color me skeptical).  But the truth is that by choosing not to work they are damaging themselves as well as society.  I use the word “choosing” intentionally because I see “Help Wanted” signs nearly everywhere I go.  I’ve worked pretty much every day of my life since I was 12 years old so I know it’s possible to get work and stay employed—even if you have to be underemployed in order to meet your obligations and responsibilities.

Why do men need to work?  Work is a core part of a man’s being.  Work satisfies two of basic needs in men—the need to provide for and the need to protect his family (even if just himself).  Work allows a man to direct his creative energies into productive outlets.  It also fulfills physical, mental, psychological, and emotional needs in his life.  Achievements and accomplishments through work help give men a healthy self-esteem and self-image.  Work often defines a man’s sense of identity and gives him something he can be proud of.  When a man says “I am a physician” or “I am a businessman” or “I am an ironworker” that expresses part of who he is, not just what he does.

Obviously, tying occupation to self-identity can be an unhealthy thing, and if that’s the sole source of a man’s self-esteem, it can be disastrous.  But notice that one of the first things most men ask another man is what he does for a living.  That is an attempt to identify his spot in the pecking order of the masculine food chain and to understand something about the other guy.  It immediately tells him a few things about the other man.  For instance, if he is a mechanic or construction worker he is probably strong and good with his hands, if he is a salesman he has the gift of gab, if he is a lawyer he is not to be trusted (just kidding), and if he is a doctor he has much schooling and knowledge.  Second it often lets him know the level of respect another man deserves—this can be accurate or misguided but serves that function nonetheless.

A man was meant to work–it’s part of his makeup.  Healthy men feel compelled to work—it’s almost as if they can’t help themselves.  In fact, they have a burden to provide that always weighs upon their shoulders.  Men who work but are unable to provide adequately are often very frustrated and angered by those circumstances (men who couldn’t provide for their families during the Great Depression often either killed themselves or ran away to live as hobos rather than face their failure in this area).  They may not always like their job, but they know working is one of their key roles in life and so they accept it.  Men who are unable to work at all often suffer from many different kinds of debilitating psychological problems.  And men who choose not to work often have an unhealthy self-image or self-esteem.  They then frequently fill that void with alcohol or drug addictions or some other type of self-medication.  Frankly, men who do not work are often a threat to themselves or to others.

Regardless of the reason, men who do not work fail to contribute to the good of society and fail to achieve their full potential.  Masculine productivity drives our economy and supports society in a variety of ways not readily noticed or acknowledged in today’s world, but true nevertheless.  By empowering males (allowing them to live in their parent’s basement until their mid-30s) or enabling them (giving them money for doing nothing but standing on a corner) to not work we are not helping them.  We are actually doing them and our culture a grave disservice.  At some point we will regret that.

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  • Joseph Villa

    Rick, thanks for this article. I have been underemployed for the last 2 years and struggle with this burden everyday. I know that I am richly blessed and my greatest desire is not for any material possessions, All I want is to simply provide for my family. When I can’t, I feel like a complete failure. Every day I remind myself that I know that God has something better planned for me. I am more than what I do as a profession,

    • Rick Johnson

      True Joseph and your character shows through by your willingness to work at whatever is necessary to provide for your family. I admire you!

  • Mo86

    Some of us – and not just men – are forced to live in our parents’ basements because we have no job and no other other choice.


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