Not working for the weekend

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Not working for the weekend


Lee Hoon-beom
The author is an editorial writer at the JoongAng Ilbo.

Most men and women work. But that doesn’t mean that work means the same thing to everyone. American sociologist Robert Bellah distinguishes three different work orientations — jobs, careers and callings.

Those who treat work as jobs are only interested in material returns for their work. Jobs are never the purpose of their lives; they are a means to acquire the necessary resources to enjoy time outside the workplace. Therefore, their interests are not the accomplishments they achieve through working, but something else. It can be volunteer work or it can be getting rich through real estate or stock investments.

For those who treat work as careers, their goals are maximizing their social status, power, reputation and income. Therefore, they make dedicated investments of time and effort at work and they value promotion more than anything. But for them, work is not about accomplishments, but rather about promotion. Therefore, they are more interested in their own future than in the future of the organization they belong to.

For those who treat their work as a calling, work is their lives. For them, the purpose of work is not material reward, promotion or reputation, but the sense of accomplishment involved in the work. A calling was originally a religious term, but its usage expanded to the secular world with religious reforms. Martin Luther opposed the Catholic work ethic that criticized the secular jobs that were devoted to material desires and argued that secular jobs can also have spiritual importance. When someone works hard and contributes to the welfare of the humanity, it will please God and it can be a calling, he said.

Of course, it’s hard to define all relationships between people and the work they do in those three categories. It’s actually common for two or three characteristics to overlap a little. But there are some extreme cases that lean toward one category, and it often prompts trouble.
Some kindergartens made headlines after their accounting practices were exposed. Those were extreme cases of people who treat work as jobs. It’s none of our business whether the head of a kindergarten purchases a luxurious handbag or sex toys with the money they earned. But if the money came from the amount saved by making soup for 50 children with only two pieces of tofu or from a state subsidy, they deserve criticism. Furthermore, some owners of kindergartens are threatening to shut down their institutions to oppose unfavorable legislation without considering teachers, parents and children who have no other alternatives. That is a threat that is unworthy of someone who calls himself an educator.


The recent disclosure by “Team Kim,” the successful curling players of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, about the brutal treatment they received is an extreme case of someone who treats work as a career. During the Olympic Games, the father of the team’s coach contributed to the country’s first silver medal in curling. Without him, there would have been no curling training center in Euiseong, North Gyeongsang, and without him, it is unlikely that the team would have won the medal. He wanted to become the godfather of Korean curling, and he believed that he deserved to be. He wanted to control everything and he didn’t care that it hindered the true advancement of Korea’s curling. Some even exposed that male curlers were actually mobilized as construction workers when the training center was built eight years ago.

Surprisingly, there are many people who treat work as calling. They are doing their best quietly, so we do not notice them. Only a few extreme cases stand out, such as Professor Lee Guk-jong, a renowned trauma surgeon. After his work following Operation Dawn in the Gulf of Aden in 2011 attracted national attention, regional trauma centers were built. But nothing actually changed in urgent treatments of trauma patients. “Hospitals can create massive profits when they make investments, but trauma centers, when operated properly, only create losses,” he said. But he continuously challenged the establishment and volunteered to become a troublemaker with a cause in the medical community. All these are impossible without calling.

Not everyone can work like Lee, but they can work diligently. Whether they treat work as a job or a career, they can do their best. Then, even without a special calling, they won’t feed children watery soup and they won’t replace teammates for challenging them. That is what Lee has said in a recent TV show. “The justice that I am talking about is not a grand thing,” he said. “It is just doing your work in your place, and you have to know what your work is. You must not make a guess which direction will please someone and you must not calculate the advantage and disadvantage of a direction to please your superiors and public opinions.”

That is exactly what Luther said. A shoemaker can raise God’s glory in his place as high as a priest because he makes shoes that protect the ordinary people’s feet, not because he makes high profits by selling cheap, defective goods or create expensive shoes that only noble men can afford.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 12, Page 28
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