Once old Dobbin the workhorse mulled the vicissitudes of life. Clearly things were not looking up for the average workhorse. A lifetime of dedication to the work ethic was not going to ensure, as old Dobbin had always assumed, a retirement of deserved rest and measured reflection. The chance to think back with satisfaction across the many years and the many challenges (each one met without complaint in the confidence that honest labor earned one a dignified end in this world) was looking less likely than a pink slip and a trip to the glue factory. Old Dobbin wasn’t one to complain about circumstances changing and the world maybe leaving one behind. The heyday of the workhorse couldn’t last forever, after all. Progress had winners and losers, and there might turn out to be only the narrowest difference between the two. If old Dobbin’s employer could find machines that never tired to replace him, such was the kind of progress that big-name management consultants were typically rewarded for, was it not? Dignified ends were not a bottom-line concern of theirs. Like a raw spot left by a harness worn too long, however, repeated insistence on “bottom line this” and “bottom line that” might come to fester in one’s life. What did bottom-line anything have to do with the amount of oneself that went into a working day, old Dobbin wanted to know? Did you add up the hours, subtract the number of rest breaks, and divide by pennies to be saved? Such thinking was about as nonsensical as it would have been in past centuries to judge a mill horse by the number of turns it took around the wheel or the total bags of flour it could manage to grind out if whipped for greater productivity to within an inch of its life. Was it, too, nothing more than a driven animal in employers’ eyes, old Dobbin snorted? Had the years of tireless service produced no greater commitment to it in return than the mill horse of old received? There was worth in labor itself, regardless of how much you could peddle its product for. And virtue still in doing one’s part, large or small, to better life for all creatures that a bottom-line calculation only cheapened. Being put out to pasture after a lifetime of unstinting exertion was certainly better than the glue factory, but it brought no honor with it anymore. No respect for the dedication that had earned one a rightful ease. Instead, you were unceremoniously led to the gate now, given a swift kick from behind, and sent off to face whatever lay ahead as if you deserved no better. While those who did the kicking were celebrated in the financial pages as downsizing wizards and awarded retirement packages that far outweighed the combined hides of all the workhorses that had ever been in their employ. If this was increasingly considered business success, old Dobbin wanted to ask, what did moral bankruptcy look like?
Copyright © 2020 by Geoffrey Grosshans