I want a Labor Day about Ho‘ohana

I love this article by Thaddeus Russell, who is a historian and cultural critic. He is the author of A Renegade History of the United States, to be published by Free Press/Simon & Schuster in 2010. I must make a note to watch for its release.

The article begins:

On Monday, millions of Americans will celebrate Labor Day in a time-honored way – by deliberately avoiding labor. They’ll attend barbecues and beach parties; they might even kick back in their hammocks and lawn chairs with a feeling of entitlement, secure in their understanding that the first Monday in September is just a hard-earned reward for the American worker.

They’re wrong about Labor Day. And not only are they wrong, but by the lights of Labor Day’s founders, their whole attitude toward the day makes them less than good Americans.

In 1884, when President Grover Cleveland signed the bill making Labor Day a national holiday on the first Monday in September, he and its sponsors intended it not as a celebration of leisure but as a promotion of the great American work ethic. Work, they believed, was the highest calling in life, and Labor Day was a reminder to get back to it. It was placed at the end of summer to declare an end to the season of indolence, and also to distance it from May Day, the spring event that had become a symbol of the radical labor movement.

You can read the complete article at the Boston Globe: The truth about Labor Day: “Behind this weekend’s holiday lies a strange civil war.”

Russell writes a fascinating piece about the history of the holiday, and “the strange civil war” he describes isn’t anything I recall learning about before, even though early American history proved to be one of my favorite subjects in school (more proof positive that teachers teach what they want to teach, for surely I paid attention to everything they offered…).

Yavapai County Courthouse

The article is so good, that I have kept a copy as a private Word doc I can make a pilgrimage to each Labor Day to come, just in case it tragically disappears from The Boston Globe archives. I am being a good blogger and not copying it here word for word, much as I want to: Go read it before it slips into subscriber-only archives.

For the longest time I considered Labor Day nothing but an extra holiday too; growing up in Hawai‘i meant it was an extra beach and really ono barbecue grinds day.

Then came my learning about Ho‘ohana, and my growing into the beliefs I have today about what this Hawaiian value of intentional, worthwhile work can be all about.

When work is good, it is really, really good.

I want a Labor Day about Ho‘ohana: Ho‘ohana is Your Intentional Work

In my mind, Ho‘ohana is why managers matter, and both managing and leading matters.

Work can and should be a time where you are working to bring meaning, fulfillment and fun to the life you lead.
Ho‘ohana. Work with intent, work with purpose.
Managers do this for themselves, and they do this for those they manage.
When managers pair employees with meaningful and worthwhile work that is satisfying for them, they will find these employees work with true intention, in sync with the goals of the business.
Be one of those managers.

~ From Chapter Two in Managing with Aloha,
Bringing Hawai‘i’s Universal Values to the Art of Business

You can read the full chapter here, a page on our dedicated site for the Ho‘ohana Community.

As you well know dear readers, I will continue to write about this; can’t not write about it. For now, I gladly give Russell the last word with another snippet from his article: He writes so thoughtfully and so well.

“…many American workers would far rather have been relaxing at the ballpark than marching to celebrate their jobs.

The sociologist Daniel Bell called this long civil war over fun the “cultural contradiction of capitalism,” the system’s simultaneous demand for work discipline and production of pleasure that undermines that discipline. Today, work itself even more strongly exemplifies that contradiction. The typical American worker spends most of his or her day toiling at a keyboard – a regimen that requires intense self-discipline – but produces services and goods that facilitate or incite leisure activities.

Though we might imagine that today’s embrace of an idle long weekend at the end of summer suggests that a truce has been reached in the civil war, the two sides – workers and the official culture – remain in their trenches.

While pop stars urge us to “Just Dance,” political and business leaders continue the Puritan tradition of calling, as President Obama did in his inaugural address, for us to “set aside childish things” and shun “those who prefer leisure over work.” This weekend, as you join the millions of Americans celebrating what they call Labor Day but treat as Leisure Day – and do it through nothing more strenuous than playing softball or having a picnic – you, too, will be taking a side.”

Think about your own choice, and the side you take on this Labor Day.

Enjoy the holiday as your values urge you to do.

4 Selections from our Ho‘ohana Community archives if the holiday offers up more reading time:

  1. Why Choose Aloha Values? on Teaching with Aloha
  2. Labor Day: Celebrate your Work and some old fashioned Values on Managing with Aloha Coaching
  3. Kamehameha’s Legacy of Values written for Say “Alaka‘i” this past June
  4. The Battle of the Learner and Over-Achiever on Joyful Jubilant Learning