Meaningful Work

Meaningful Work

Simple needs, human needs - genuine human needs. But what is this word genuine and what does it have to do with need?

Immanuel Kant famously had a silent decade, 11 years in which he didn't produce anything for public consumption apart from 'advertisements and endorsements for classes'.

In that spirit:

a) Pay for a membership to The New Philosophy!

b) People say it's really good!

c) What's 2 months between friends?

After the end of the silent decade came "the astonishing decade", the years in which Kant published his three critiques and changed the nature of human beings forever (big shout, that, but true).

On that basis, the next couple of months at The New Philosophy ought to be proper bangers.


I'm not sure what Kant's excuse was, but I know that mine is excellent. We had a daughter, you see - Anaya Sophie was born on 10th February at 4.59 a.m. And it turns out that having two kids is a fair amount of work.

It also turns out that doing that work makes it hard for me to do this work. Initially, I put this down to tiredness, but I now realize that's wrong. It's something else, something far more interesting and possibly even important. I'm too tired to draw out the suspense so I'll give it to you straight-up.

I experience taking care of a baby (and a two-year-old who has turned temporarily - we hope - homicidal) as meaningful work. And today, in a flash of tired insight, I understood why.

It's very simple: When I take care of Anaya and Rahi, I am attending to authentic human need.

I make food. I clean diapers and bums. I take Rahi to libraries and train stations, trying to give him sunshine amidst the sudden rain of the new arrival. I hold Anaya while she cries, so she can at least feel warmth and calmness (sort of) next to her heaving little body.

Simple needs, human needs - genuine human needs. But what is this word genuine and what does it have to do with need?


The medieval Jewish philosopher and Rabbi Maimonides says there are three types of evil that befall human beings:

  1. "The first kind of evil is that which is caused to man by the circumstance that he is subject to genesis and destruction, or that he possesses a body."
  2. "The second class of evils comprises such evils as people cause to each other, when, e.g., some of them use their strength against others."
  3. "The third class of evils comprises those which every one causes to himself by his own action."

I want to talk about the third class today, which Maimonides says is "is the largest class, and far more numerous than the second class." The root cause of this type of evil is "excessive desire", by which he means pretty much exactly what he says.

Notice, says Maimonides, how easy it is to obtain what we truly need - air, a bit of food, some clothes, some shelter. If we contented ourselves with seeking just this, he continues, we would eliminate most of our troubles.

But we are not, most of us, content with this.

"Those who are ignorant and perverse in their thought are constantly in trouble and pain, because they cannot get as much of superfluous things as a certain other person possesses. They as a rule expose themselves to great dangers ... and all this for the purpose of obtaining that which is superfluous and not necessary."

Let me add to Maimonides' list a little. We also truly need some things of the spirit - some love, some beauty, some laughter.

Are these easy to obtain? Under normal circumstances, yes, I think they would be - but only if we were able to restrict ourselves to seeking the things we truly need. But we are not able to do this.

We waste our energies on things we don't truly need, and we inflict great troubles on ourselves in the pursuit of those unnecessary things, and so we make it harder for ourselves to enjoy love and beauty and laughter.

We chase things we don't need and ignore the things we do.


Food, some clothes, some shelter. A clean bum and a dry diaper.

Love, giving it, receiving it. The hundreds of times a day that we laugh together. Anaya's eyes. Rahi's calves, plump with life and the full-cheeked splendour of being two years old. Annika after she gave birth. The sacrifices she makes for me, the sacrifices I make for her.

My sister coming for a week, a golden week. Johanna, there for the birth, coming again in a week just to help us. My mother, aching to help, coming soon to give us some time. Annika's mother, fighting chronic pain and illness, fresh out of the hospital and here twice this week to give Anni and me a bit of a break.

Annika's father, preparing the house, building things, repairing things. Hartmut driving Rahi and me to daycare, Georgia helping out. Sarah and David spending their holiday weekend helping us prepare for the birth and beyond.

So much love! So much simple humanity. So much bread for the soul and the spirit.


My work over the last eight weeks has been simply to tend to two little creatures (and one slightly bigger one). To love, and be loved. To cook. To clean (not very well, but still). To hold. To wipe bums, to kiss away tears. To show Rahi trains. To rock Anaya to sleep.

Simple work, human work - real work.

I have found it very hard to do any other work. Not (only) because I'm tired, but because my soul has seen with ever-increasing clarity how so much of my work has nothing to do with genuine human need.

It's a few minutes past midnight. I had better go sleep while there's sleeping to be had.