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A Hamster’s Guide to the Rat Race

By on November 1, 2013 in Articles, Bible, Ecclesiastes, Kohelet, Koheleth, Wisdom, Work

As a boy I loved going out to the dump on Saturday mornings to collect bits and pieces for my latest invention. On one of those excursions I spotted a small wire cage, bent and twisted, lying near the top of the drop-off pile. Clambering over boxes and broken debris, I discovered a hamster huddled in the corner of the cage, trying desperately to hide under the few remaining wood chips. Balancing the cage over my handlebars, I jumped on my bike, and headed for home with my treasure.

The cage was a wreck, so I designed a new home for my pet. It was a Plexiglas wood-and-wire wonder with multiple levels connected by clear plastic tunnels. The hamster loved to run through the tunnels and burrow under the fresh wood shavings, but his favorite spot was the fitness center with its polished wire running wheel. He would get it rolling and refuse to stop. As the wheel whirred around for hours on end, the sound began to irritate me. Then I would stick my finger into the cage and slow down the wheel until the little creature flopped out into the wood chips panting, sides heaving up and down. “You’re so stupid,” I would say. “Why don’t you just stop? You’re not getting anywhere.”

Many years later I found myself on my own whirring wheel, working 10-12 hours a day, seven days a week, month on end, year after year. My health was shot, my relationships strained and I found myself saying, “You’re so stupid. Why don’t you just stop? You’re not getting anywhere.” But how do you change a habit, a way of life, in short—an addiction? My good intentions would not keep me off the wheel for long. I enjoyed the way people admired how fast I could get that thing spinning. I was trapped in a cage of my own design.

In desperation I turned to an ancient author and I found a piece of wisdom that has since changed my perspective on life and work. A book of less than 6,000 words penned over 2,000 years ago has been more helpful to me than entire libraries on the subject of work. I refer to Kohelet (aka – Ecclesiastes) where we read these wise words: “Go then, eat your bread with gladness and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for today your work is blessed by God. Put on your best clothes, use your finest perfume, and enjoy each futile day of your fleeting life with the people you love, for these pleasures are God’s gift to you in your toilsome labor under the sun.” (my translation)

Changing my lifestyle and my workstyle has been a struggle but my ongoing reflections on Kohelet’s teachings have been at the centre of those changes. Kohelet has shown me that when it comes right down to it, we hamsters were simple not designed for the rat race.

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