To be productive

What am I, a field?

(This analogy will make sense later.)

I was lying around in bed the other day, feeling exhausted because I’d had a busy few days – human interaction is draining – and also feeling guilty because I wasn’t doing anything productive.

All I’d done that day was clean the kitchen floor, feed the dogs, hang out the washing and check my emails, before I collapsed on my bed for a few hours. This does not count as being productive because no one is making money directly from my domestic endeavors, nor am I earning a wage from it. Thus I feel guilty and unproductive.

Yesterday, I got quite a bit done, including going through half the pile of boxes that were deposited in my book room when I moved in and haven’t touched since, and two loads of washing washed and dried. I was exhausted after, and aching. But it doesn’t count as work; nobody is making any money from my labours.

A few months ago it was reported on the news that a nap in the afternoon was good for your health and made people more productive. People interviewed by the BBC said they’d love a nap, but would feel guilty about not doing their work. I generally have an afternoon nap, purely because my body insists on it. I’ve always been this way, and when I’m ill it gets more persistent. Denying myself the rest impacts my mental health, exacerbating my depression. And I feel really guilty because I’m not able to work full time, a drain on society because I have to rely on state benefits to survive.

I feel as though because I can’t be ‘normal’ with regards to employment, then I don’t have any value as a member of society. The reason I feel like this is that we live in a society that praises productivity, and making money.
Our value as members of society, as human beings, is linked to our jobs, how much you work, how much you earn. How much you spend. It took me a while to work out that it’s a consequence of living in a capitalist country and culture.

This feeling is a pernicious bit of social conditioning that makes the rich richer and keeps the rest of us in chains; I like to call it ‘productivity guilt’, the feeling you get when you’re not at work and your culture thinks you should be. It’s what forces the sick in to work when they should be in bed, it’s what makes people feel awful for taking holidays or refusing overtime because they want to see their families or experience something new. It’s what makes the prejudices against unemployed people acceptable. It’s the cause of the distinction between ‘worthy poverty’ (working in crap jobs earning minimum wage, or so severely disabled work is impossible) and unworthy poverty (unemployment because there’s no suitable jobs – ‘lazy’; poor single parents – ‘thoughtless scroungers’; sick but not in care – ‘not really ill/making it up’ etc.).

If you can’t produce, you don’t have worth. And if you don’t have worth then society can abuse you.

The obsession with being productive is a large part of a capitalist system. If people refused to work for an employer for as little as the employer can get away with paying, then the system doesn’t work. This is why governments and employers are opposed to collective bargaining, employment rights and a strong social safety net; they don’t want to lose power over people, the people who are making them wealthy.

Frightening people with the consequences of not playing along – lack of housing, starvation, loss of status (gained by buying things), loss of self-worth (inculcated from a young age to be hitched to the type of job you have and the amount of money in your bank account) – helps elites (the ones making money out of the rest of us) keep people in their place. If you’re busy keeping your nose to the grind stone to stave off some terrible fate, you’re too busy to look up and wonder what the point is.

Why spend all your life earning money to be too tired to enjoy it?

Why is a person’s worth in society chained to their bank account and the car they drive or where they live/went to school etc.?

Why do people let themselves be manipulated like this?


If you work a field constantly without allowing it to replenish it’s nutrients and rebuilding the soil structure by adding organic matter (cow shit and compost), you destroy the soil, it’s structure and ability to grow anything. Eventually it becomes worn out, a dust bowl.

Such a field would become unproductive, but such a field has no choice in what happens to it. It can’t go on strike for better treatment – a fallow year, more manuring, better working conditions for its worms, fungi and microbial life.

People are not fields. We can walk away, we have agency. We can say no, we won’t let you destroy our rights, we won’t let you break up our social safety net, no we won’t let you get rich from our labours while we struggle to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table.

Two hundred years ago (next year) at St. Peter’s Fields in Manchester, a large number of people gathered to here a radical speaker ask for more rights for the people. It was a peaceful gathering, until the local elites got scared – by people peacefully listening to reformers – that they sent in the militia and then a regular regiment. Sixteen people died. Many women and children were deliberately injured. It’s known as the Peterloo Massacre.

Social elites can’t set soldiers on us now, not without the whole world finding out, so instead they control the media, lie and scaremonger to keep people in line, while breaking down the NHS, outsourcing our education, selling our resources to their mates at rock bottom prices, and telling us it’s the only way forward.

It isn’t.

You have value and it isn’t based on your bank balance.

You are a valuable member of society, even when you can’t work.

You have something to contribute, and it isn’t just in the workplace.

You, we, are equals in this world, wherever we were born, went to school, earn, live etc.

I’m trying to rid myself of productivity guilt; it’s not easy because I’ve had 32 years of social indoctrination, but for my own good I’m trying. The added guilt that I SHOULD be working full time, that I should drive, that I shouldn’t rely on the state to survive, the feeling that I’m lazy or the judgements of those who don’t get why a mental health condition might be limiting, or assume I’m just not trying hard enough, isn’t good for me. The capitalist system only works because it forces everyone into the same mold of working full time for fifty years to meet some ever moving standards. Some of us don’t fit that mold and trying to made me ill.

I am not a field.


One thought on “To be productive

  1. Yes, get rid of the productivity guilt! The ancient Sumerians (I think it was them) used a bartering system versus a monetary system, and a person’s “worth” was measured by how much they gave rather than how much they kept. To have given more than you received in wealth, time, and talent raised one’s standing in the community. A community was united by good deeds done for one another. Oh gosh, I’m rambling. Well anyway….when I learned this, it really changed the way I look at our individual “net worth.” It’s not about money, but about kindness and acts of the heart. ❤

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