One of my wandering, meandering musings follows, as I wade into matters far outside my ken. You’ve been warned.
What happens when experts, teachers, cultural leaders, and others tell people that they have no vocation and can not have one? When a generation is informed that not only can they not follow the paths of their fathers and mothers—especially fathers—but that such plans and dreams are outdated and pointless because the world has changed and the now-vocationless are doomed from birth? When there is no other option suggested, or perhaps no option that does not mean becoming dependent and being reminded of that dependence on a near-daily basis? I would posit that we may be seeing that today in the US, and possibly Europe as well, although various parts of Europe have their own problems that date back to WWI if not somewhat farther.
One of the important aspects of certain branches of Protestantism and Catholicism is the idea of a vocation. Not a calling to become a monk, nun, priest, or minister per se, but that people are given a task and a job, something they are meant to do for the good of the Kingdom, and that they need to do in order to be fulfilled and spiritually whole. Some are called to be businessmen, some to be mothers or midwives, some to be teachers, others to be pilots, or industrial chemists, or garbage collectors, or to clean houses, or to serve in politics [although I have a few reservations about claims to that effect], or to serve in the military, or something else. The vocation might change over time, or looking back, it might prove that one was preparation for a later, more difficult or complicated task. Certain Protestant denominations are well known for their emphasis on secular vocations, and doing the best you can in whatever your chosen (or predestined) vocation in the world, in order to achieve a spiritual benefit for yourself or others. Vocations don’t have to make sense, and often don’t until after the fact, or perhaps when we all face the Great Editor and all those odd footnotes and strange plot-twists are clarified.
Culture often favors one sort of vocation over another, or encourages certain basic habits and calls. Traditionally, men were called to support their families, to earn a living through some way in order to keep a roof over the heads of their wife and children, while women focused on children and home and the vocations associated with them. Sometimes the callings were different, and most people regarded those called to an odd-seeming task as either a bit touched, or to be pitied a little because of their hard road. And anyone who announced that “G-d is calling me to become a prostitute so I can comfort the lonely” would probably be sent straight to their local clergy for help discerning their vocation a little more clearly.
So, when you have a culture with a basic set of vocations and duties, and that encourages people to pursue vocations, what happens when the people are told, “There is no such thing as a calling from Above. You are hurting the world by oppressing women/minorities and you are outdated/ignorant/isolated/inbred/a victim of society. Don’t bother trying to do better. Take this instead,” with “this” being a government check, or an application for a job that is obviously dead-end charity or that will make someone dependent on the largess of others?
I wonder, and this is something I’m groping at and not really sure about because it’s not something I know in my own life exactly, but when you tell someone, or a group of people, often enough that they have no calling, no purpose in life, and that their best hope is to depend on charity/the government forever and ever, if that doesn’t kill the spirit, if perhaps not the soul. The well-meaning experts don’t intend to do that, of course. The less well-meaning may indeed hope that happens, so that the broken person or group will suffer for some reason, and become dependent on the expert. But when people are told often enough, in enough ways, that they are trapped in a bad situation and have no hope of getting themselves and their families out of it, and that no one else can help them besides the expert, I cannot foresee anything good emerging. Especially when you tell that to men and women who have very little left other than their pride in being providers.
So I sort of wonder if a lot of the social problems that are reported to be occurring among middle-aged white men and others are in part the result of hearing once too often that “Your vocation is to depend on me/the government. You cannot change or improve your lot because you are too ignorant/old/young/poor/pale/Southern/Northern/proud and there’s no point trying to change because it won’t do any good. You can try, but you will fail just like your parents did.” Is there any wonder people seek an escape, if that has been going on in the background by drips and drops for thirty years and more? Not only are there no “good jobs” but there is no possibility of even having a job-job enough to fulfill a calling. Blue-collar jobs have faded and their wages have declined, in part in some regions because of the blind eye (at best) turned on things that undercut wages and erode the idea that physical labor can be honorable and dignified.
I know. Easy for me to theorize, since I have two jobs to do, I find my escape through story telling instead of things like alcohol or pain-killers, and I don’t have physical problems that keep me from working. My parents are still married to each other. I have access to the resources to learn new skills and do more work that brings in income. I’m in a state with jobs, in a town with jobs. I’m ignoring a lot of other things, like over-prescription of pain-killers thanks to government policies that emphasized “not in pain” over “minimum dose needed so as to prevent addiction.” I’m part of the “new economy” and not the old manufacturing economy. I’m “privileged by birth” so I play the game on the default easy setting, per a well-know author’s comments. And society has put too much emphasis on “job as vocation and identity” and needs to get back to something “spiritually better” like, oh, having people become artists or something.
Still, I wonder what happens when people —well-meaning or otherwise—deny the importance of vocation and calling, and drip, drip, drip for a generation that some people are just purposeless. There is no hope in this life, the experts minimize the possibility of another life, and what? Spiritual disaster ensues would be my thought, and social problems follow.
I have no solution, if this is indeed part of the problems I see in the news media. How do you re-ignite the desire for a calling and the need to look farther than just the material world without coming across like a hyperactive motivational speaker mouthing platitudes, or a really irritating social worker? Or someone who is about to ask for money?