Better Off

Posted: February 17, 2010 in Uncategorized

Better Off cover image I’m going to try to share some quick takes on books I’ve been reading while I have not been blogging.

First up the quick read, Better Off by Eric Brende. This book is the story of an MIT grad student and his wife who decide to live a year w/out electricity in an Amish-like community they call the Minimites. I found it a compelling, possibly life changing story.

I was especially impressed with Brende’s reflections on the nature of work. He finds the work he is forced to do without the aid of electrical machines to be mysteriously life affirming. Partly this is b/c work is done at a different pace when human and animals set the pace and not a constant flow of electrons. Things slow down and find a rhythm that is more sustainable, more natural, more humane and human. Brende was surprised to find how much life seemed to slow down off the grid and he and his wife actually felt like they had a lot more time while they lived on the farm.

More to the point this book suggest that there is something about manipulating physical things in a disciplined way that is deeply satisfying. We are made to do work. This runs counter not only to our culture but to my long habit of trying to minimize work – especially physical work. Yet it seems to make sense and conform to my experience (and I’ve had ample opportunity to experiment recently at the office). After reading this book I adopted as a goal to do three things around the house every day – washing dishes, folding clothes, dusting, etc. The point is to see physical work as an important part of a healthy life and this kind of work is very different from what I usually get paid to do. So far I’ve made it over a month and made my “3 things” goal almost every day. I have a ways to go to counter a long habit of seeing work as something to avoid but this is a start.

Another important take-away from Brende’s book was the important social function of work. In Brende’s Minimite community much of the work was done communally with neighbors and the result of months of working with and for each other emerged the shared stories and emotional bonds of deep friendship. In Brende’s experience the work preceded the friendship and was a way to earn trust. As someone who struggles making light conversation and forming friendship with others this movement from work to friendship makes sense. There is something very satisfying about accomplishing something as a team. Recently I’ve heard some discussion about how guys especially have a hard time forming friendships with other men. I wonder if we looked harder for people to work with and less time for people to be friends with, if wouldn’t end up with the significant friendships that are otherwise difficult to build. In part this means that the attempt to divide our work and social lives might be very misguided – at least for men. Female relationships seems to follow some different patterns.

Obviously I’m still using electricity but I’m trying to recapture a discipline of seeing work as something to affirm as a regular part of life and not a problem thanks largely to the example of Eric Brende and the lessons he learned with the Minimites.

  1. Friar_Tuck says:

    I really liked this Matt. Good stuff. I think you are right about male friendships, although work does not always need to be “work”. Men forms bonds through doing things together and sharing experiences. Sometime the work is a golf league or a service team at church. But it is important we dont just talk togehter but actually do stuff together.

  2. Kindra says:

    This sounds really interesting, Matt. I’ve been thinking about how our society’s aim is to do as little work as possible and not thinking that’s really God’s plan for our lives. Being a stay-at-home mom has made me do more physical work (as well as emotional and spiritual) than I have ever had to do before and it’s taken me a long time to accept that and not fight against it every day (and it’s still a struggle, truth be told).

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