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  • Anna Brix Thomsen

Arbeit Macht Frei… Or does it? On reclaiming the Value of our Work. 88

Work. It is a word that we all know too well. For some the word Work may produce a bitter and metallic aftertaste, whereas to others the word Work makes the word Freedom palatable. The word Work is drenched in and infused with innumerable historical references. It easily brings images to the forefront of the sign above the gates of the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz that famously proclaimed that “Arbeit Macht Frei.” Work makes you free. But for the prisoners of Auschwitz who, drenched in the sweat of their slave labor, bent the metals to form the letters of these words, there was no freedom in sight, only death.

Work, in its basic definition means ”An activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a result”. (Source: the Oxford dictionary). Work is the place we go to every day, not because we want to, but because we have to. That is what we tell our children. We use the word Work to explain why we are not there with them. Work. It is where we can fulfill our need to succeed and prove ourselves worthy in the eyes of the world through that which we call a career. Work. It is where mothers break their backs cleaning other people’s floors and where fathers risk their lives having mountains fall on them to extract the metals and minerals that give other people status by virtue of the price of their jewelry. Work. It is where children as young as two start carrying the rocks that will become their mortal destiny and where those more fortunate at the ripe age of eighteen can dream and envision all the possibilities that life has to offer through Work. It is where you dream big or go home to your TV dinner.

When we investigate the origin of the word Work and its lexemes, a depth beneath the surface emerges and it is like the word becomes breathable again rather than being something that suffocates us with the weight of its morbid legacy.

work (n.) Old English weorc, worc “something done, discreet act performed by someone, action (whether voluntary or required), proceeding, business; that which is made or manufactured, products of labor,” also “physical labor, toil; skilled trade, craft, or occupation; opportunity of expending labor in some useful or remunerative way;” also “military fortification,” from Proto-Germanic *werkan (cognates: Old Saxon, Old Frisian, Dutch werk, Old Norse verk, Middle Dutch warc, Old High German werah, German Werk, Gothic gawaurki), from PIE *werg-o-, from root *werg- “to do” (see organ). Work is less boring than amusing oneself. [Baudelaire, “Mon Coeur mis a nu,” 1862] In Old English, the noun also had the sense of “fornication.” Meaning “physical effort, exertion” is from c.1200; meaning “scholarly labor” or its productions is from c.1200; meaning “artistic labor” or its productions is from c.1200. Meaning “labor as a measurable commodity” is from c.1300. Meaning “embroidery, stitchery, needlepoint” is from late 14c. Work of art attested by 1774 as “artistic creation,” earlier (1728) “artifice, production of humans (as opposed to nature).” Work ethic recorded from 1959. To be out of work “unemployed” is from 1590s. To make clean work of is from c.1300; to make short work of is from 1640s. Proverbial expression many hands make light work is from c.1300. To have (one’s) work cut out for one is from 1610s; to have it prepared and prescribed, hence, to have all one can handle. Work in progress is from 1930 in a general sense, earlier as a specific term in accountancy and parliamentary procedure. work (v.) a fusion of Old English wyrcan (past tense worhte, past participle geworht) “prepare, perform, do, make, construct, produce; strive after” (from Proto-Germanic *wurkijan); and Old English wircan (Mercian) “to operate, function, set in motion,” a secondary verb formed relatively late from Proto-Germanic noun *werkan (see work (n.)). Sense of “perform physical labor” was in Old English, as was sense “ply one’s trade” and “exert creative power, be a creator.” Transitive sense “manipulate (physical substances) into a desired state or form” was in Old English. Meaning “have the expected or desired effect” is from late 14c. In Middle English also “perform sexually” (mid-13c.). Related: Worked (15c.); working. To work up “excite” is from c.1600. To work over “beat up, thrash” is from 1927. To work against “attempt to subvert” is from late 14c. (Source:

The old Germanic and Norse word ’Werk’ as a noun means ’creation’ and as a verb means ’to create’ or ‘to craft’. The word Work thus, in the essence of its roots refer to the basic human activity with the purpose of producing a desired outcome or result. Work is how we each individually contribute to the life we all share; it is through Work we give our lives meaning and purpose. Work is the expression of creation where we mold and shape our reality to optimize our lives and living conditions. Work is where each individual is able to express his or her unique abilities and passion. Our work as it exists today however, has been tied to money and with that has been severed from its root. The ambiguity embodied within the word Work reveals the gut wrenching fact that most of us experience on a daily basis: That what was supposed to be how we each contribute to a life that is best for all through our individual and unique expression has been turned into something subjugated.

There is something unnatural about having to work for a living and having to buy back a life that we never bought in the first place. This essentially means that we were born as slaves. Have a look at a heart for example; a heart’s work is to pump the blood around in the body to give the organism the beat that keeps it alive. The heart is not a slave; it works unconditionally to support the whole that is the body. It expresses itself in the way that it can best support the whole organism to thrive. Look at a tree; it is the tree’s work to make the earth breathable through transforming carbon dioxide into oxygen. No one has paid the tree to do the work that it is uniquely qualified to do. It does it through an innate understanding of its contribution to the ecosystem that makes the earth thrive and so in affect, itself. Each of us are able to develop unique skills and abilities through which we can support each other and ourselves to thrive. This is what Work should be. Work has been turned into something unnatural where we work for something else, for someone else to serve their needs and their agenda that in many cases has little to nothing to do with supporting the whole to thrive. We are taught that work is what will make us free, but that freedom has to be bought at the expense on someone elses labor. That is not freedom. We sell our expression to buy it back with interests. That is not Life. The time has come for us to redefine work as the true value of our expression it should have been where we can each most passionately contribute to making life on earth best for all. Real freedom should be the recognition that we are all born free and that Life should be given to us from birth, not something we have to buy. We should not have to pay to live but instead be given and give each other all the means necessary to create the best possible life for ourselves.

In the next post we will continue discussing Work in the context of how it is currently defined in separation from the value of life and how this affects our children’s education and so the human beings they become.

Re-Educate yourself here:

Last week, I was part of the panel on a Live Google Hangout about the Common Core standards initiative. I definitely recommend watching it.

The Ultimate History Lesson with John Taylor Gatto:


Human Resources: Social Engineering in the 20th Century

The Story of Your Enslavement

On Advertisement and the end of the world:

Third World America – Chris Hedges

More articles about parenting and education in a Guaranteed Living Income System:

Watch the hangout about Education for a New World in Order:

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