The Dignity of Work

At the heart of the human story is the idea of work as fundamental to the human condition. To be told that one has no useful function within a society is the harshest and bitterest negation. And yet this is just the kind of message we convey to some of the most vulnerable members of our society and to millions of small-scale farmers across the globe.

It was John Ruskin who said “the highest reward for a person’s toil is not what they get for it, but what they become by it”. To find ourselves unneeded is “unbecoming” a negation of our spiritual identity as people made in the image of God the creator, whose identity is known to us by what God makes.

A group of farmers from Burkino Faso came to Edinburgh at the time of the G8 Summit at Gleneagles in 2005. They spoke up for small farmers everywhere when they appealed to the G8 to end the practice of flooding world markets with cheap subsidised food that destabilises indigenous farming and makes it impossible for small farms to continue as viable businesses. Here is a part of the statement they handed to the world’s leaders at Gleneagles, “we, African agricultural producers, represent the vast majority of those who are poor and hungry! But we do not want to live off charity and humanitarian good will! We do not want to build our rural societies on food aid, however generous it may be! We want above all to live from our work!”

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