What recovery culture can teach us about the meaning of work: I’m in America

What recovery culture can teach us about the meaning of work: I’m in America April 20, 2020

magazine, though also country:

“Things began to come together. I got a job scrubbing toilets, that honestly I am grateful for. It taught me about humility and showing up to do a good job, no matter what job I’m doing. It stripped me of my ego in the best possible way.”

This is a description of life in early sobriety written by Hannah Lund in 2017 for The Voices Project, a grassroots recovery organization. It is an especially clear and concise statement of an understanding of the purpose of work, from a perspective shared through much of the 12-step or “recovery culture” world. There is no requirement to hold a particular belief about the nature of work in order to practice 12-step recovery, nor is a specific philosophy of work part of the written traditions and literature of Alcoholics Anonymous. What I call the recovery attitude toward work is a tendency, not a principle. You do not need to think this way in order to get sober through the 12 steps, let alone to recover from addiction by one of the many other paths that work for many. And yet attending to the implicit theology of work that has developed “in the rooms,” as they say, of Alcoholics Anonymous and its affiliates can help all of us think through the deeper meaning of work.

Outside recovery culture almost nobody talks about work the way Hannah Lund does. Bureaucrats, policy wonks, politicians and activists rarely praise work for its simplicity, humility and ability to strip the ego. When they describe good jobs they do not talk about scrubbing toilets. Perhaps surprisingly, Catholic leaders do not often talk like Lund either. When popes explain the economic and social teaching of the church, they praise work in terms that would be totally alien to the recovery attitude.

The recovery attitude offers only a partial account of work’s purpose, but its insights can make the Catholic understanding of work more complete, more honest and less sexist. Recovery culture can illuminate what we need from work.

more; I should say that the Covid-updating of this piece was last-minute and clumsy, which is my fault, and should have included some discussion of the way “respect” for essential workers can become a substitute for support rather than a spur to support. Also lol this is the single most “those who can’t do, teach” article I’ve ever written, in a career notable for its can’t-do-teachiness.


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