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Work and the Rorschach Test

Work and the Rorschach Test

by William H. Benson

January 2, 2014

     In a scene from “The Andy Griffith Show,” Deputy Barney Fife showed an inkblot to Otis Campbell, Mayberry’s town drunk, and asked him what he saw. Otis said he saw a bat, but Barney objected and said that the inkblot represented a butterfly. Next, Barney showed Sheriff Andy Taylor the same inkblot, and he too said it was a bat. Barney rolled his eyes and refused to accept that answer.

     You see a bat, but I see a butterfly. I see a butterfly, but you see a bat. Perspective is everything.

     Early in the twentieth century, the psychologist Hermann Rorschach developed ten symmetrical inkblots that he would show to patients and then ask for their responses. From them, he would determine a person’s personality traits, although critics dismiss the test and call it pseudoscience.

     Two weeks ago in The York Times there appeared an opinion column “A Formula for Happiness,” written by Arthur C. Brooks, president of a public policy think tank in Washington, D.C. Brooks’s formula for happiness is, in a single word, “work,” and he makes a persuasive case that “work is uniquely relevant to our happiness.”

     He based his formula upon the University of Chicago’s General Social Survey that found that 80% of Americans are either “fairly satisfied,” “very satisfied,” or “completely satisfied” with their jobs, and, Brooks writes, “This finding generally holds across income and education levels.” This opposes the idea that Americans consider their work as unwelcome but necessary drudgery. Through work we create value and meaning in our lives and in the lives of others.

     The Declaration of Independence opens with the words: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and Americans know that they possess those rights. If we dislike our jobs, if the boss mistreats us, or if we are poorly paid, or if we see little opportunity in the job we now hold, we can quit and pursue different employment, one that will deliver life and liberty and happiness.

     The former slave Frederick Douglass said that we all need “patient, enduring honest, unremitting, and indefatigable work, into which the whole heart is put.” Arthur C. Brooks commented that Douglass’s words “struck the bedrock of our culture and character.” Joblessness, Brooks writes, “is catastrophic for happiness.” Alcohol and drug abuse, depression, and family disharmony converge like wolves on the home that lacks a job.

     Time‘s Person of the Year, Pope Francis, echoed the same thought last October when he was asked what is the most serious evil facing the world today. He answered, “youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old,” two segments of the population who find it difficult to locate work. In some parts of the United States, youth unemployment stands at 25%, an unacceptable number.

     On Tuesday, November 26, Pope Francis issued his Evangelii Gaudium, or The Joy of the Gospel, and in it he criticized the “new tyranny” of “unfettered capitalism” and denounced trickle-down economics “which assume that economic growth . . . will succeed in bringing about greater justice. . . . Meanwhile the excluded are still waiting.” Francis pointed to the gap that distances rich from poor.

     Yes, capitalism has its critics: from the Church, from the Left, from the disenfranchised, and from the poor, but others see it different. Andrew Napolitano of the Washington Post, responded to the Pope’s comments and said “No economic system in history has alleviated more poverty, generated more opportunity, and helped more formerly poor people.” Brooks argued that, “Free enterprise gives the most people the best shot at earning their success and finding enduring happiness in their work.”

     But it requires immense effort and work.

     Three weeks ago I went to the movie “Twelve Years a Slave,” a brutal and savage reenactment of the South’s plantation system prior to the Civil War, raw capitalism at its ugliest. Management badly mistreated their labor source, the men and women and children who worked their fields.

     Yes, there was zero unemployment, but what trickled down to Solomon Northup and his fellow slaves was chains, beatings, a whip, the whipping post, a flayed back, the buying and selling of naked men and women, name-calling, intimidation, humiliation, and abject terror. In a word, hopelessness.

From their perspective life was a relentless and cruel existence.     

     You see a bat, but I see a butterfly. No. I see the bat, but you see the butterfly. Perspective is everything, and our perspective for our job is determined by how the supervisor treats the employees.

     Managers have learned that if they wants laborers and employees to show up and work hard for the minimum eight hours, they must treat them with dignity and respect, and not resort to physical abuse, but if they whip their employees, their laborers will leave and find other jobs. They will pursue happiness elsewhere.


     Have a blessed and happy New Year in 2014.