Donnalyn Bartolome is once again at the receiving end of various criticisms after yet another controversial statement. The Internet personality took to Facebook to question people’s sadness over going back to work. According to her, instead of being sad, we should be grateful for the chance to improve our lives.
Despite meaning no harm, her post drew ire from a lot of Internet users. Some called it insensitive and out of touch with reality, while others pointed out her toxic positivity enabled by the privileged position she’s currently in. One comment said that although they love her optimism, her sentiments don’t apply to minimum-wage earners.
In the heat of the backlash, she clarified her previous statements with a follow-up post. Through recollecting anecdotes about her grandfather and her own struggles, she explained that her positive outlook in life did not come from privilege but rather from experience. She shared how, just like everybody else, she went through difficulties and survived. She shared photos of her commuting and doing side gigs to pay her tuition and bills.
Having weathered the same struggles, however, does not give anyone license to invalidate other people’s less positive feelings. It does not give anyone the ascendancy to deny people their right to ponder on the relationship they have with work.
Hard work does not always equal success
Stories of people breaking free from the shackles of poverty are not something unheard of. We love to romanticize their stories, no matter how rare they are (especially because of how rare they are), so we tell people to work and work gratefully.
But if working hard is indeed the answer, then the most successful people in our society should be our farmers. After all, they are the ones who work the hardest. Yet, the majority of them remain poor because of landlessness and neoliberal policies like the Rice Tariffication Law.
The same with our workers who are struggling against contractualization that denies them benefits and job security. Or our OFWs who, because of lack of opportunities, needed to look for jobs elsewhere battling homesickness and racism. Let’s also not forget the families who are tightening their belts to the bone because of wage stagnation amidst skyrocketing costs of living.
At a young age, we were sold the impossible idea that in order to be financially secure, we have to work hard. Use all of our time to earn money, to the point that even our leisure activities must be "jobified," because if you aren’t earning with your hobbies, what are you doing with your life?
But life is not that simple.
There are a lot of societal factors that make it hard to find joy in working. Forcing people to be positive amidst these misfortunes, without an honest review of our society, is simply unfair and cruel. Most of our work is hard enough as it is—we don’t have to make it harder by denying ourselves completely human responses.
Rose-colored glasses blind us to social ills
This is not to say that a glass-half-empty perspective is what will get us through life. On the contrary, I believe that cultivating positivity is important in creating better living and working conditions for everyone. After all, it takes positivity to believe that a better world is possible. But in order to create this world, we have to recognize why we need to create it in the first place.
We cannot improve something, if we do not see any room for improvement. By plastering optimism all over our problems, we might be using band-aid solutions for a gushing wound that may need sutures and stitches.
Being able to pinpoint problems will allow us to articulate how certain social structures harm us and take advantage of us. It will also liberate us of the individualism that’s so inherent in our current system. We no longer have to blame ourselves for having “bad jobs” that we cannot enjoy because we now know that it isn’t our fault if there are not enough “good jobs” around for everyone in the first place.
Most of our work is hard enough as it is—we don’t have to make it harder by denying ourselves completely human responses.
It takes effort and pragmatic optimism to scrutinize our status quo, and in Donnalyn’s case, it takes the removal of rose-colored glasses to understand that not everyone can enjoy work as she does. Unlike her, most of us have to traverse the worsening condition of our public transportation, just to earn less than a quarter of what she earns from advertisements or monetized videos.
Of course, I’m not saying that Donnalyn does not deserve her success. In fact, I find it impressive that she was able to pursue the life she has now given her humble beginnings, but I hope she tries to take a step back and see where the rest of us are coming from. It doesn’t mean that since she succeeded and overcame her struggles, our problems are suddenly inconsequential. They’re also real and valid.
Moving forward, let’s not sacrifice more of our humanity for work
In Amelia Horgan’s Lost in Work, she wrote, “The problem with work was a fundamental one: Under capitalism, work takes something human and turns it into something monstrous. The forces of capital become ravenous, eating up all that is human, sucking on the very lifeblood of society.”
It is capitalism's design for work to be exploitative. In a system that prioritizes profit above anything else, business interest will always come first over human interest. And it is in the interest of business that we become efficient human beings, which means the removal of every inherent human trait in us—like feeling sad or making mistakes.
Fortunately, there have been shifts in our attitude towards work. The COVID-19 pandemic allowed us to think about our relationships with our jobs. The simple act of reflecting empowered us to be more conscious of the things we want out of our careers. This led to the Great Resignation, or the Great Reflection, where people voluntarily resigned from their jobs en masse.
Likewise, with the rise of “quiet quitting” (whether or not it's the appropriate term is a conversation for another day), we’ve been actively setting boundaries with work. Instead of submitting ourselves to the glorified hustle culture, we’re refusing to slave ourselves away for profit to pursue life outside of our careers.
Human life is not just about working. Although it’s true that having a job allows us to finance dreams and buy things that we want, there's so much more to our humanity than just being the most efficient worker. Let’s not sacrifice more of ourselves in the soulless “rise and grind.” Instead, let us scrutinize a work culture that does not allow us to be sad, and collectively try to build a better future for everyone.