Bricks Without Straw

One of the classic scriptures dealing with the concept of “bricks without straw,” and the origin of the concept in the first place, is Exodus 5:6-9: “So the same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people and their officers, saying, “You shall no longer give the people straw to make brick as before. Let them go and gather straw for themselves. And you shall lay on them the quota of bricks which they made before. You shall not reduce it. For they are idle, therefore they cry out, saying, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to our God.’ Let more work be laid on the men, that they may labor in it, and let them not regard false words.” Today I would like to comment a little bit about this passage and its repercussions for us today, given that this concept is not an unfamiliar one for many people.

The context of this particular command from Pharaoh is very straightforward. God had summoned Moses from his herding in Midian to free Israel from slavery in Egypt. Of course, when confronted with the demands for religious time off, the Pharaoh immediately assumed that his workers are lazy. Whenever someone gets used to exploiting and taking advantage of others, any sort of time off from those people is going to seem like laziness and dereliction of duty because one’s standards and demands are unrealistic and inhumane, since it represents a disruption of the gravy train. So, as is common in such situations, he gets the supervisors of his workforce to put harsh standards on workers in order to cure them of their supposed laziness, while then blaming the workers for not meeting their old standards while they have been given more work to do. This is not an uncommon problem.

I comment occasionally on the subject of motivating workers and perspective in general [1], and a great deal of the impact of motivation depends on perspective. For example, if we motivate ourselves or others in our position with humor and sarcasm about what we have to deal with, making sure that we keep up our spirits and do the best we can with those limited areas under our control (namely our response to the world around us), that itself is not an example of ‘bricks without straw.’ Instead, it is the demonstration of coping skills that are necessary to deal with the absurdity of life. Such motivation is generally done with a great deal of situational humor and sarcasm, and admittedly it is not always easy for those who are in charge to be able to handle the comments directed at them in the face of such difficult and unpleasant situations.

That said, there are unhelpful ways to respond to such difficulties. The despondency that the Israelites showed, for example, was not the proper way to respond to the tyranny of Pharaoh and his minions. Likewise, it is all too easy in difficult situations for those who have at least some power in dealing with situations, whether in setting or enforcing fair standards, or in setting up procedures and systems of labor, to demand unreasonable achievements or to provide motivational cliches in lieu of actually doing anything to help relieve the difficulties faced by those front-line employees who can often find far too many resemblances between their work life and that of the children of Israel in Egypt. Quite frankly, that’s not a resemblance someone ever has to deal with. We ought to remember how trying to force people to make bricks without straw worked for the people and leaders of Egypt. Let us profit from the example.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical History, Christianity, History, Musings and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Bricks Without Straw

  1. Pingback: Book Review: What This Cruel War Was Over | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: 100 Ways To Motivate Others | Edge Induced Cohesion

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