E.F. Schumacher on Work and Spirituality

E.F. Schumacher wrote iconic books on what constitutes good work or “right livelihood” or wise work.  He warned us that as a species “we are now far too clever to survive without wisdom.”

What good shall I do this day? Photo by Nathan Lemon on Unsplash

Notice what he is saying: Being clever is not being wise.  Being rich or being powerful is not being wise.  And having a degree in knowledge does not make you wise.  And that lacking wisdom, we may not survive.

I have proposed the same thing: That we have knowledge factories but very few wisdom schools.  Thus many of our workers and those in professions from law and judiciary to economics and business to media and journalism to seminaries and religion may be far from wise.  Knowledge does not make you wise. 

In an Epilogue to his classic work, Small Is Beautiful, Schumacher tells us the need to keep our inner houses in order when he says:  Everywhere people ask: ‘What can I actually do?’  The answer is as simple as it is disconcerting: We can each of us work to put our own inner house in order.  The guidance we need for this work cannot be found in science or technology, the value of which utterly depends on the ends they serve; but it can still be found in the traditional wisdom of mankind.

The mystics of all traditions are among those carriers of “the traditional wisdom of mankind” that needs to be studied and upgraded and applied for our time.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, The Reinvention of Work, p. 21.

To read a transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner image: The importance of working together is clearly evident in an Amish barn raising. Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

Queries for Contemplation

Does your commitment to studying the mystics and sacred books of humankind contribute to wisdom in our time?

Recommended Reading

The Reinvention of Work: A New Vision of Livelihood For Our Time

Thomas Aquinas said, “To live well is to work well,” and in this bold call for the revitalization of daily work, Fox shares his vision of a world where our personal and professional lives are celebrated in harmony–a world where the self is not sacrificed for a job but is sanctified by authentic “soul work.”
“Fox approaches the level of poetry in describing the reciprocity that must be present between one’s inner and outer work…[A]n important road map to social change.” ~~ National Catholic Reporter

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16 thoughts on “E.F. Schumacher on Work and Spirituality”

  1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Matthew, Today you begin by saying, “E.F. Schumacher wrote iconic books on what constitutes good work or ‘right livelihood’ or wise work. He warned us that as a species ‘we are now far too clever to survive without wisdom.'” The book that spoke to me the most, that Schumacher wrote was: Small Is Beautiful–which spoke in part also about not accumulating things. You point out that “we have knowledge factories but very few wisdom schools.” you even go so far as to say that “seminaries and religion may be far from wise. Knowledge does not make you wise.” In Small Is Beautiful, Schumacher tells us the need to keep our inner houses in order when he says: “Everywhere people ask: ‘What can I actually do?’ The answer is as simple as it is disconcerting: ‘We can each of us work to put our own inner house in order. The guidance we need… can still be found in the traditional wisdom of mankind.'” And a big “Yes, I believe that my commitment to studying the mystics and sacred books of humankind will contribute to wisdom in our time!

  2. Avatar

    Gratitude and Honor to Michael Fox, E.F. Schumacher, St. Francis, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, and musicians around the world, particularly our Ukrainian brothers and sisters:

    “A man who works with his hands is a laborer. A man who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. A man who works with his hands, his head, and his heart is an artist.”― Saint Francis of Assisi

    Spiritual life is full-time work, twenty-four hours a day. This is why most people don’t want to do it.

    Dona Nobis Pacem


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    Through my own commitment to studying the mystics, I personally have received much comfort, consolation and wise counsel; with regards to not only the times we are living in, but also when this knowledge is applied it then becomes wisdom, based on experience. Participating in my own inner work is not only an important aspect to my life, but is of the utmost value; in living out my souls meaning and purpose in the unfolding evolution and emergence of my becoming whole… discovering, accepting, acknowledging and integrating both my humanity and the nature of my divinity and all that this entails. Throughout this transformational process I am healed and broken open even further into givenness as I am awakened to what it truly is to BE loved TO love.

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    Thank you for planting the seeds that can be nurtured and grow into Wisdom.
    The inner work I need to do is life long cultivation of the seeds I recognize.

  5. Avatar

    Simple comment on today’s meditation: Thank you, Matthew, for sharing the thinking of Schumacher about wisdom. Perfect timing for me. My hope is that the word wisdom will be able to penetrate into other beings, also.

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    I read small is beautiful, agreed with and loved many of it’s thought and principles toward building more just, equitable, compassionate society’s. The complete opposite of the selfish egocentric Ayn Rand thought that continually tried pushing itself in our politics and onto the people. Thank you for sharing again this book which I will definitely be rereading for I believe many of these principles are needed now more than ever as we try to transition, rebuild and pull ourselves away from all (economic &other) things that have proven not to work, be of service or of any benefit.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Marilyn, You mention Ayn Rand… Well, guess who was a part of her circle? Alan Greenspan, Former Chair of the Federal Reserve, and Republican. I think that says a lot of where our country has been heading economically.

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    Matthew, my answer to your question yes. Yes, studying mystics and wisdom keepers can help. IT helps me an I help others by this work . Blessings and gratitude for all you do. Pat Ferrari

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    Yes, Matthew, studying and appreciating the mystics in all our human spiritual traditions for a long time and contemplative Prayer have helped me develop faith, meaning, and deepening my spiritual journey of Being-becoming God’s Spirit of Love~Wisdom~Healing~Justice~Peace~Creativity~Beauty~Joy~Compassion… Present in my inner~outer life daily with others, Mother Nature, and All of ongoing co-Creation~Evolution in our multidimensional and multiverse Beautiful Cosmos in Diverse Loving Oneness. Studying the spirituality of our indigenous sisters and brothers through Creation Spirituality with their closeness to Mother Nature has especially sensitized me to the sacredness of our intimate Oneness with Her and all living creatures… It saddens me to realize how much destruction and suffering Western civilization and unbalanced, toxic patriarchy historically and to the present day have inflicted on indigenous peoples and Mother Earth. Now we are barely beginning to realize with our environmental crises how much destruction we have caused Mother Earth and most species, including our own, and appreciate the long held spiritual Wisdom of indigenous peoples and cultures with their closeness to sacred Mother Earth.

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    Thank you Matthew. I have been deep in reflection after the passing of Queen Elizabeth 11. She was not a recipient of much formal education and I believe this worked greatly to her advantage! If the Church of England had a similar system of honouring lives of remarkable people as the Roman Catholics, I am sure she would be a fast track candidate for sainthood. Less privileged, but equally wise in the ways of love was Siostra Faustyna, à Polish nun and an illiterate young girl, who wrote her spirit led famous diary and commissioned the iconic painting of the sacred heart of Jesus. The mystics encourage me to live a life of passion and to deepen into ever more profound depths of love.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Christina, I have been reading the Dairy of St. Faustina or “Faustyna,” and she is truly a mystic, though she is a mystic who celebrates “the next world,” rather than this world and the goodness and God of creation. Try reading some of St. Francis’ work, or better yet St. Hildegard of Bingen. And then there is always Meister Eckhart…

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    Studying and appreciating the mystics helps with the inner work that must be done even to approach a place of wisdom in my heart. That and the appreciation of the beauty of the cosmos, God’s creation and living place, guides my actions in the world that must be based on love. But maybe I must be clever as well in discerning where and how my voice is most useful, not for myself, but for the greater good. I hesitate to quote from the Bible but cannot help from thinking of these verses in the KJV: “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of the wolves; be ye therefore wise as serpents , and harmless as doves.” Matthew 10:16. It seems to me that we must not be naive in facing the dangers that Matthew describes so well.

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    Which is our so called cleverness if we not have recourse to wisdom? We do not have an intent for wisdom, we are light as men/women, overpraised, overestimated by what is accomplished very externally with no pointers from inside. The institutional churches, a shame, their leadership and intuition full of fraiity and lacking, so go their administrative shkills but lacking spiirituality!!!!

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      I am most grateful for the reflections I just read.
      As a Dominican Sister of Peace, I go to one of my favorites passages I learned early in my religious life. It is there I find the Wisdom of God.
      I Cor. 18-30. I recommend you reflect on the whole passage. I chose just a section.
      “The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish.” Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.” Thank you, Matthew and team.

  12. Avatar

    Thank you for this meditation on Wisdom as apposed to knowledge, the two are often conflated. In Sage-ing work we speak of changing the paradigm of aging to sage-ing primarily by life review, forgiveness, facing mortality and service. We believe these are the pathways to gaining wisdom and spirit.
    And thank you for all your wisdom and spirit. You are truly inspirational.
    Jerome Kerner Emeritus Chair Sage-ing International

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