By Jin-yeong Yi
“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now, if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody. Cowards do that… [U]ntil you start believing in yourself, you ain’t gonna have a life.”
—Rocky, Rocky Balboa
During the daily grind of work, one repeatedly recalls the scene in the Shawshank Redemption where Warden Norton, having had Tommy murdered by Captain Hadley, pays Andy a visit after leaving him in isolation and darkness for a month.
Andy: I’m done. Everything stops… Get someone else to run your scams.
Norton: Nothing stops. Nothing. Or you will do the hardest time there is. No more protection from the guards. I’ll pull you out of that one-bunk Hilton and cast you down with the sodomites. You’ll think you’ve been fucked by a train. And the library? Gone. Sealed off, brick by brick. We’ll have us a little book barbecue in the yard. They’ll see the flames for miles. We’ll dance around it like wild Injuns. You understand me? Catchin’ my drift? …Or am I being obtuse?
“Nothing stops.” Although Norton here is presumably talking about the money laundering operations, I also detect a profound, metaphysical truth hidden in his eloquently twisted speech: nothing in Nature stops. Its laws are forever in effect, and they are constantly bringing forth and setting into motion objects and events. The cosmos is one wild ride, and we are powerless to stop it.
The Warden’s words can also be interpreted in a third sense, which has to do with the nature of work. If Norton is an archetype of the tyrannical executive, then the scene in question can be read as an illustration of the totalitarian grip that the demands of modern society have over our lives, particularly in the form of the modern job.
What I realized during my first job was that the workweek is a lot like a boxing match, with three chief differences being that 1) it is more psychological than physical, 2) it is one-sided in that you are only receiving the blows, not dealing them, and 3) it goes on for an indefinite number of rounds–often dozens upon dozens of rounds. Your spirit is subjected to blow after blow, from the morning commute to the office to the eight hour workday to the evening commute back home. The traffic hits you, your customers hit you, your boss hits you, your colleagues hit you, an unexpected illness hits you, your family hits you. You can never hit back. You can trying throwing a punch, but you can never hit anything but the concrete manifestations of what the world throws at you–you can never actually hit the world itself. All you can do is weather the blows as best as you can, for as long as you can.
In Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin says, “I can never enjoy Sundays because, in the back of my mind, I always know I’ve got to go back to school the next day. It’s like trying to enjoy your last meal before the execution.” Substitute ‘work’ for ‘school,’ and boy, how relevant and spot-on it is! When the workweek draws to a close, we gratefully say, “Thank God it’s Friday,” but in the back of our minds we know that a weekend is just another brief rest period, in which we hastily ice and patch up the wounds of our weary and battered spirits before the bell rings for the next round.
Nothing stops. Nothing.