Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Wisdom of "The Prophet" (Part 1)

I've had a few philosophical books that have guided me throughout my life.  One in particular is that of "The Prophet" by Kahlil Gibran.  The premise behind "The Prophet" is that a messenger from God comes to a small village and preaches on all things about life.  Villagers ask more questions and the Prophet answers them through parables.  Through this "person" Gibran teaches us his own philosophy and wisdom.

One of my favorite such sections is that of work and Labor.  I'll go through and quote Gibran while also giving a little of my wisdom.

"Then a ploughman said, Speak to us of Work.  And he answered, saying: You work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth.  For us to be idle is to become stranger unto the seasons, and to step out of life's procession, that marches in majesty and proud submission towards the infinite."

You can almost feel the ploughman's anguish as he asks the profit why he should keep working.  Almost seemingly throwing the question back to the ploughman, the Prophet basically states that without work, we cannot function to our fullest.  For all of you out there seeking early retirement, take note; sitting idle will lead to an early death.  In fact, in this short passage, the Prophet defines retirement as the freedom to pursue one's passion although this still would be considered work.

"When you work, you are a flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours turn to music.  Which of you would be a reed, dumb and silent, when all else sings together in unison?"

Basically, Gibran is asking us where we would fit in if all the world is working in harmony.  Is it me, or does work still sound less interesting.  It almost seems we are still sugar coating something rather dull.  Let's listen a little further:

"Always you have been told that work is a curse and labour a misfortune.  But I say to you that when you work you fulfill a part of earth's furthest dream, assigned to you when that dream was born, And in keeping yourself with labour you are in truth loving life, And to love life through labour is to be intimate with life's inmost secret."

By defining our lives through work, Gibran has described the meaning of life and where we fit in the whole mess.  It would seem impossible to believe that Gibran was not influenced by the Confucius quote "Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life".  I actually stumbled upon this concept again in the bookstore.  A 25 year old MBA grad wrote this book about retiring at 22.  Intrigued, I decided to pick it up and scroll through it's pages only to feel fooled in that "retirement" is defined as still working, but working at something you loved.  She essentially had the same 8-5 job as the rest of us, but loved it and therefore it was never really "working".  When did working ever become synonymous with misery?  Gibran continues:

"But if you in your pain call birth an affliction and the support of the flesh a curse written upon your brow, then I answer that naught but the sweat of your brow shall wash away that which is written."

Once again, Gibran speaks as though hard work is a sort of cleansing or baptism in your life.  In a way, I believe this to be true since after a hard day's work, I almost feel as though I were innocent again.

"You have been told also that life is darkness, and in your weariness you echo what was said by the weary.  And I say that life is indeed darkness save when there is urge, And all urge is blind save when there is knowledge, And all knowledge is vain save when there is work, And all work is empty save when there is love; And when you work with love you bind yourself to yourself, and to one another, and to God."

I'll stop there for today's reading, but percolate a little on the above topic.  Gibran is saying that you will have darkness and misery in your life without an urge to carry on.  However, you cannot have a good idea of what your urge is in life without knowledge, and knowledge can only be acquired through hard work.  Work, unfortunately, is empty unless there is love in your life, whether it is love for your work, or love for another.

Later this week, I'll conclude the "work" chapter of "The Prophet", but meditate on this: What exactly is your definition of work?

Wonderful Moment of the Day - Attending a Catholic/Sri Lank-an Wedding.


  1. Good points, nice analysis.

    I would quibble with but one part. Your commentary on "And when you work with love you bind yourself to yourself, and to one another, and to God."

    You comment is "... whether it is love for your work, or love for another."

    My focus is on the use of "for another". I think "... and to one another, ..." is more broad than one person. (I interpret your "for another" to be loving a single person, e.g. a spouse.) I see "one another" to be loving all of the people in one's life. In a community, most work is performed for others. Indeed, the highest calling in life is to 'serve others', and those we most revere worked in the service of others.

    Also, you didn't comment on the "... and to God", but perhaps you included that reference in you "for another". I've seen that most people in this world believe in God and there is a large number who work for Him - regardless of their religion. (Personally, I'm agnostic.)

    I'm looking forward to reading your second part.


  2. These are all great points. Thanks for the feedback!

  3. Everybody likes to repeat this "find a job you love" bullshit because it sounds good and allows you to blame people who don't enjoy their work. The thing is, the work that pays well is generally not fun and play generally doesn't pay very well. In any society, you are going to find a few people who really like their job and so they think "hey, why can't everybody be like me and choose a job they love". Well, not everybody has interests that match up with a productive career choice. I'm one of the few lucky ones, but that doesn't mean I can look down on bus boys and janitors for not loving their work.

    1. Tell me about it. I actually laughed out loud when I found the book.

  4. @elindbe2: I used to have a job I really didn't like. After I learned what I'm about to share, I realized I only liked about 20% of the job.

    It was suggested to me that I focus on the part of the job I *did* like. Some amazing things happened - I enjoyed that time so much that I didn't hate the other parts of the job anymore. Management noticed I was doing a great job in one area and gave me more of that work to do - with less time on the stuff I didn't like. After a few years, I left that company to work in one where my primary job is one I love.

    I changed my focus and my job changed.

    I'm not sharing some parable. I worked at Ford Credit from 1993 to 2008 and migrated from an "Analyst" to a "Programmer". I do a job I love now, because I changed my focus.

    Also, P-Money, the captcha text is nearly impossible to read. It have to refresh 5+ times to get a word I can decipher. The audio part is useless.... :/

    1. Thanks for sharing this and I'm glad you found something you now love to do! Also, I'll see if I can check out that captcha problem. Thanks for the heads up.