Planetary Responsibilities

In the book “Planetary Responsibilities: an Ethics of Timing” (details below) I have put the work in professional organizations in a broader context of culture and history. One chapter is devoted to the question how much commitment an organization is allowed to demand from its workers. To what extent can one or should one be married to your work? Can you allow yourself to be absorbed by your work? Shouldn’t you instead watch the limits of your commitment? I provide a short summary here. I am doing so by exploring the length of “arcs of tension”, periods of time, in our personal biographies. How long can one be fascinated by something? Hours, days, years? When is it no longer exciting?

Five arcs of tension

In answer to that question, we can distinguish five types of time periods.

  1. Mechanical time.
    That is the time of the clock and of mechanical processes. Actually, that is not the time as lived by human beings. It is the time of physics. And it is more a unit for accounting. It is the way in which the hourly wages are calculated. Work on a product can also be calculated mechanically, at least by calculating the average time spent. If this is also done with people through calculations of so-called care minutes (minutes medical personnel is allowed to be occupied with treatment of patients), soon problems will arise. One shouldn’t actually deal with people that way.
  2. Working time.
    This is the working day, say 8 hours or more. This doesn’t necessarily refer yet to qualitative work, work on something bigger and permanent, a house, bridge or the like. Labor is for earning a wage. That is the minimum. It takes effort, but you need to make a living. As a worker among other workers you have to achieve something and you have to line up for it together. The aspect that you do it in cooperation with other people also provides social connections, albeit on quite a basic level. In any case, with working time, unlike mechanical time, we are going beyond merely mechanical time and enter human time. We are burdened with it together. One can represent that aspect of work with the formula: 3 = 1. For example: with three people you can work around the clock and replace each other.
  3. The collective.
    If one doesn’t only work for a living, but is also proud of the work done, then the work apparently gives this group a shared identity. That could be the company, for example a rose nursery that supplies a high-quality product. It can also be a football club or an association. If one can identify with it, there is a sense of belongingness. For example, one can have a professional pride as a painter, or a doctor or schoolmaster. Then the profession of that group also invests its members with an identity. A collective identity is more intense than just daily work. That makes a more long time involvement possible. So this time arc is wider than the hour or the day. You can identify with your work or a community that you participate in for years. Sometimes 3 years, sometimes 15 years or longer. The number of people in such a group can be large or small, but it is not really the number that makes the difference. The felt unity does. Ꚙ = 1, or an indefinite number of people feel united. That could be the formula.
  4. Marriage.
    A marriage covers the entire conscious period of life, if it succeeds. The two relationship is therefore more exciting than participation in the collective. A collective identity provides a group of people with a common denominator. But the two relationship is built on difference. The partners are different from each other and that makes them attractive for each other. They correct and complement each other like in a team. Moreover, a marriage always means reproduction, even if you do not take it literally. When two people in a tension-filled relationship are married or marrying and connecting different approaches, it is always aimed at producing something new. A collective is built on tradition, but in a two relationship you do not know in what way you will meet the other person in the future. You know you will have to deal with surprises. Of course you are not married to the company, not really, but a little bit you are. If there is no inner commitment to the success of the company’s mission among the employees, the company cannot renew itself. Then the employees do not feel professionally responsible either. That relationships within the company play a role comparable to marriage is expressed by the term “affiliated company”: an affiliated company branches off. The Latin word daughter is comprised in “affiliated”. The director cannot be everywhere, but she can safely leave the subsidiary or branch in the hands of people who – even a little bit – are married to the company and who go the extra mile. They can represent the company. It is also their baby. The two-relationship or “dualis” can be represented with the formula 2 = 1. It is not necessarily confined to the number two. There may be more persons in the company that function as “partners”. The point is that different people work together to achieve a common goal from a different perspective.
  5. The individual.
    When people go through a crisis they are thrown back on themselves. When the marriage breaks up or the company goes bankrupt, everyone suddenly feels to be thrown in a no man’s land. What now? We are never more naked than when we are faced with an unknown future. The fact that people are often willy-nilly a bit married to the company is also reflected in the moment of dismissal. People then feel “dumped”, just like in a two-way relationship. With this loneliness and with these ruptures our biography enters history. The ruptures in time are going beyond our personal biographies. We are becoming part of the bigger picture now. We are experiencing historical ruptures that have a superpersonal origin. Whether it’s war or an economic crisis or a new invention, or climate change, suddenly there is a new situation. In a way, our life then breaks in two. Before and after the crisis. And precisely because that is the case, we must save our souls. It must, as it were, “move” from the pre-crisis period to the post-crisis period. This means that the inspiration that drove our way of life before the crisis must be translated into a new shape that our lives have to take and find after the crisis. That unity is our soul. Even if you accept your new responsibilities in a completely different way in the post-crisis period, you should be able to explain to yourself that everything you did before the crisis was also a (perhaps outdated, perhaps flawed) way of accepting your responsibility. Even if you have to admit you didn’t make much of it, still that confession restores the unity of life. In this way the continuity of your person is saved. That saves your soul through the no man’s land. 1 = 1.

Life – love – Spirit

It will be clear that people who only work at levels 1 and 2 do not have much added value for an organization. People who also live at level 3, those of the collective, will bring more life to the organization. Because they really go for it. It is a trait of young people to be able to do this with much enthusiasm. Those who have been part of a company for a longer time will inevitably become more difficult to handle for the company, either in a negative or a positive sense. Because after enthusiastically participating in the collective for long enough, someone also wants to have his/her own input, because one develops a more keen eye for the problems that should be solved, the “unfinished business”. If that is the case the time is ripe for more marriage with the company, so to speak. If this is not honored or if the person concerned is not up to the task, someone is at risk of getting a depression, burnout, or more superficial, of going along with the usual grumbling in the workplace. But if there is an opportunity for more commitment and if the person concerned also has the energy and initiative, this will bring innovation and initiative. That can also be difficult for the company to deal with. But the company can only get better from it. It brings more life to the company. Love is actually a higher form of life. Spirit means: living even more intensely. If the company addresses the historical challenges of its own era, that is a hugely motivating factor. Then the company will be involved in a real adventure at all levels. Then ruptures do occur, because failure and disappointment are inevitably part of it. But then ruptures can also be healed and setbacks can be overcome, because the company has become part of a bigger story. The company then has a mission and if it really has one, everyone in the company feels this participation in the healing Spirit. This can cure a lot of disappointment and tragedy.


In conclusion, we note that the company is actually subject to all laws that also count for a person’s individual biography. At least a healthy company does. And with that, the company also contributes to a healthy human soul. Because deep in his soul, a person wants to experience all levels of intensity that life can offer. Love that gives itself means more intensive life. Enduring ruptures and the renewal of life in view of higher goals in pursuit of our historical mission as humanity is an even more intense level of living. Life has its gradations. And no one wants a monotonous life.

Otto Kroesen, 2014. Planetary Responsibilities: an Ethics of Timing, Wipf & Stock, Oregon.