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Work is Inseparable From Love: A Parable by Kahlil Gibran


Although we don’t often relate the two, work and love are closer than we might think, argued poet Kahlil Gibran.

One way we consider work is as an obligation and even as a punishment. That was the quality given to work in the Biblical story of the expulsion from Eden, in which Adam was condemned to earn his bread by the sweat of his brow.

Throughout history, work has been slavery but also a means of liberation. It’s cause for suffering and for pleasure. Work is seen simultaneously delaying utopia and accelerating its advance.

How do we reconcile these two positions? Perhaps it might be better to ask what makes them different? Why do some people live work as a burden while for others it’s a vehicle for what they really want – and want to do?

One possible answer lies in a short text from Kahlil Gibran, the Lebanese-born poet who rose to remarkable fame in the West and who wrote much of his work in English. His most famous book, The Prophet, has been widely read since it was published in 1923.

In the passage from The Prophet we’ll share below, Gibran discusses work from a perspective we don’t often consider. It’s a perspective in which daily tasks are inseparable from our ability to love. Gibran writes:

 Then a ploughman said, Speak to us of Work.

And he [the prophet] answered, saying:

You work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth.

For to be idle is to become a stranger unto the seasons, and to step out of life’s procession, that marches in majesty and proud submission towards the infinite.

When you work you are a flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours turns to music.

Which of you would be a reed, dumb and silent, when all else sings together in unison?

Always you have been told that work is a curse and labour a misfortune.

But I say to you that when you work you fulfil a part of earth’s furthest dream, assigned to you when that dream was born,

And in keeping yourself with labour you are in truth loving life,

And to love life through labor is to be intimate with life’s inmost secret.

But if you in your pain call birth an affliction and the support of the flesh a curse written upon your brow, then I answer that naught but the sweat of your brow shall wash away that which is written.

You have been told also that life is darkness, and in your weariness you echo what was said by the weary.

And I say that life is indeed darkness save when there is urge,

And all urge is blind save when there is knowledge,

And all knowledge is vain save when there is work,

And all work is empty save when there is love;

And when you work with love you bind yourself to yourself, and to one another, and to God.

And what is it to work with love?

It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart, even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth.

It is to build a house with affection, even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house.

It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy, even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit.

It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit,

And to know that all the blessed are standing about you and watching. […]

Work is love made visible.

Love and work? At first the two may not seem to be very close but when, with Gibran, we realize work’s implications, we may be able to see just why the link between the two is so important to life.

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