One reason I love reading history is that it confirms a suspicion that I’ve always held: that in day-to-day life, people throughout history have dealt with the same kind of basic problems that we deal with today, often in much the same way and with similar results. One thing I liked about Will Durant’s Story of Civilization books is that it places a good deal of focus on the lives of common people.
Yesterday, in reading Gotham, I came across a passage that hit very close to home, specifically, about how people balance the line between work and life outside work:
Livingston’s attempt to find a home insulated from the seamier aspects of urban life was as yet far from typical among well-to-do New Yorkers. Like master craftsmen, they were accustomed to living and working in the same building, and the boundaries between “family” and “business” life, between “private” and “public” spaces, were highly porous. (Emphasis added).
When I read this, I felt better for some reason. We have a terrible problem these days in finding a balance between work and life outside of work. The problem is so bad that many companies offer employee assistance programs which help employees deal with the stresses of work and balancing work life and home life. But in some ways, well-to-do people living in New York at the end of the 18th century had it worse because the lines between work and home were almost invisible. They had true home offices. In many cases, their homes were just upstairs from the shops and counting rooms in which they conducted their business. They began to solve this problem by moving outside the city and living in a place different from where they worked. That seemed to help them for a while. We, for the most part, already live someplace different from where we work and so we have to find different ways of balancing these two forces in our life.
Still, I find it fascinating that people like Robert Livingston, John Jay and Alexander Hamilton lived with the same sort of mundane stresses with which I too live.