Man, work, and leisure

A curious thing, isn’t it, how a day especially marked to celebrate work and workers is a holiday. Today, it’s even a double holiday, falling on a Sunday. And perhaps celebrating Labor Day on a weekend captures the very essence of why we commemorate this day dedicated to the workforce.

It can be said that Labor Day in the Philippines has two origins. First, being a country with a Christian heritage, May 1 marks the feast of San Jose Labrador (or St. Joseph the Worker, the traditional patron saint of laborers). Second, the march to Malacañang of some 1,000 workers in 1903 is considered the first celebration of Labor Day in the country. It was only, however, in 1913 when the first official Labor Day commemoration happened as we know it today (following the passing of the bill that recognized May 1 as a holiday in 1908).

At the core of today’s holiday is “man as a worker” and his inherent relationship with work. But perhaps, taking the cue from this holiday falling on a Sunday this year, it would also be interesting to explore the connection between work and leisure.

Work, in its most basic sense, exists as a means for a person to be able to provide for himself or herself and for his or her family. At the same time, work also provides a person with an avenue for self-fulfillment. Arguably, there might be some who look at work as an end more than a means, especially when one “lives for work”—a noble enough proposition, at a glance, particularly when seen under the light of self-fulfillment. But, perhaps a bit of refinement is in order. Instead of living for work, it might make more sense to “work to live.”

In more recent decades, this has become more of a norm in almost every workplace, with the invention of catchphrases like “work-life balance.” Whether or not this has evolved into a work culture in offices or has remained to be an idyllic scenario depends on particular labor industries. What is clear, however, is that there have been recent improvements on worker’s rights, conditions, as well as benefits provided by most employers in the country.

This “work-life balance” concept, upon careful consideration and closer examination, is very much rooted in the original relationship of man with work. See, as a means, work is not meant to be the “end all and be all” of a person. And this is where the concept of leisure comes in, and what an interesting one it is. Leisure, at its core, cannot exist without work. In the same manner that work can help give meaning to a person’s life, leisure derives its value from work.

Simply put, what is the point of “rest,” which is how leisure is mostly understood, to a person who is always at rest? A true “work-life balance,” one that exists beyond mere mantras and as a “nice-to-have” in any institution, recognizes a person’s need for both work and leisure, and implements reforms that respects and protects it.