The Pleasure of Labor

I had an argument with my wife and we weren’t talking.  On top of that, my sister was going to stay with us for the weekend and her flight was landing soon, so I went to pick her up.  We got back home at midnight.  I opened the door of my apartment and stepped into a puddle of water.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

The washer had been overflowing for probably 2 hours, and my wife was sleeping.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

“Hey!  Do you know the washer is overflowing?”  I accidentally shout.  But I’m so mad that I don’t care if I wake the kids up.  There is about half an inch of water covering the floor of about 75% of our apartment.  It looked as if the young Mickey Mouse wizard had fallen asleep after magically making  brooms to bring in water.  We had surge protectors floating.

Thank goodness we live on the ground floor.

There are two guarantees here.  Number one:  We have to clean this up.  Number two:  I’m not doing this alone.

We all grabbed buckets and rags and just started soaking and squeezing the rags.  I was mad at my wife earlier, and now I’m heaping the blame of a broken washer unfairly on her.  But we’re in this together.  It’s midnight and the house is flooded.  And we were laughing uncontrollably.

The house was filled with water and ridiculous jokes.  The kind you and your friend told late at night during sleepovers, the ones that exhaust all humor and cannot be retold the next day.  This common purpose was just what my wife and I needed to make amends.  For richer or poorer, in sickness and health, for wetter or dryer.

All of us were up for about 2 hours performing the unskilled labor of mopping up a swimming pool with a towel.  As a married couple, we have difficulty–as does every couple with young kids–finding time just to “talk things out.” But in this instance, we had no choice.  This labor allowed us to bond, smooth things out, and connect with each other.

In Eric Brende’s book Better Off, he describes communal work as “the very material with which the social fabric is woven.”  In other words, with out this shared purpose, people would be unable to connect with each other.  It literally allowed my wife and I to patch things up.

We do a lot of pulling weeds in the Army.  This task is humiliating, but it is invaluable to the cohesion of the group of  young soldiers.  It allows for so much talking, joking, connecting.  The shared (seemingly pointless) labor allows everyone to be on the same social plane and share what’s on their minds at that time.

There can be great pleasure found in labor, so I challenge you: next time you have to do the dishes (again!!) notice that space has now been created for connection.  The job must get done, you may as well do it together.

So raise a barn, weed a garden, dig a ditch, split some wood, or flood your house.  Do chores, but do them together!  See what happens.


Please post  to the comments the labor or chore that connects you with others.

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3 Responses to The Pleasure of Labor

  1. Ed says:

    I’ve had some of the best conversations during the practice of guard duty. The main deliverable is being awake so I am not distracted by noticing people not doing their fair share. Maybe I missed the real deliverable of “unit cohesion” with the distraction of getting the physical labor done.


  2. Abby says:

    Chores also provide Quality time. For me it’s laundry- folding and putting away clothes… It’s like 15 minutes that I get uninterrupted of quality time. And it takes away the unpleasantness of the chore. At least somewhat. It also puts us on the same scale… Neither one is too good for one chore…. Like pulling weeds


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