A Special Labor Day Message…
Hard work—it’s one of our basic American values, the price we pay to get ahead, to capture the American Dream of a better life. But do our young people really have a good work ethic? Do they understand that all work is not intrinsically rewarding? That some work is mundane and routine, maybe even drudgery? Ah, that is the age-old question, isn’t it? Here’s what they had to say about young people and their attitude toward work 100 years ago.
“Routine Work” The Youth’s Companion July 2, 1914 p. 344
Young people, especially young people who have from their earliest years been regarded as having brighter minds than most of their contemporaries, are usually impatient of the routine work to which an older generation condemns them. They have ideals and ideas, and feel that they should be free to meditate and to produce according to their own promptings. If the tedious older persons in authority would only realize that they would get much better results by giving their brilliant, enthusiastic, and conscientious young men and women wider liberty of hours and of tasks, and greater responsibility!
The young people who cherish that view are precisely the ones who are most in need of the firm, restraining discipline of routine work. Their ideals and visions, if examined, would be found to centre chiefly about themselves, and to be merely euphemistic terms for egotistical ambition. No true genius, it may be believed, was ever reduced to dullness or inability, or ever prevented from producing, by the need of bowing to a routine task; and many a youth who, if more indulgently treated, would have been a bumptious fritterer, has through the constraint of routine acquired a capacity for useful and self-effacing service.
The person who goes at his routine work each day cheerfully, promptly, without reluctance, and who does it neatly, accurately and quickly, will gain efficiency for the work that requires initiative and decision, the work that is not routine. The person who scorns all work that does not demand the exercise of the higher faculties is likely to sit most of the time in superior and arid idleness. Routine work is good for the soul, and it enlarges the working capacity. Even so gifted a writer as Thackeray did not merely write “when he felt like it.” He forced himself to his daily task when he did not feel like it, and often fished ideas out of his inkwell when there were none in his head.
The author raises an important issue. What happens when young people who have always been told that they are the best and brightest enter the workforce and are asked to do work that is routine? “They have ideals and ideas, and feel that they should be free to meditate and to produce according to their own promptings.” In other words, they want to do what they feel led to do, not what some older boss is asking them to do. They want to do work that is meaningful to them, not routine. He asserts that these are the very young people that are in most need of the discipline of routine work and warns that without it, they may become “bumptious fritterers!”
I have to admit that I had to look up “bumptious.” It means “self-assertive or proud to an irritating degree; conceited, arrogant, pushy, pompous, overbearing, cocky.” So these undisciplined young people may fritter away their time on unimportant things while being “bumptious.” The author also warns that they may spend their time in “superior and arid idleness,” and that no true genius ever became stupid by doing routine work. And he concludes that routine work “is good for the soul.”
This article reminded me of the Wellesley High School graduation speech given by David McCullough, Jr. in 2012, the one where he told the privileged students, “You are not special.” In an interview on the Diane Rehm show April 24, 2014, McCullough discussed his new book, You Are Not Special…And Other Encouragements. He talked about how praising children for just “existing” and not for achieving creates young people who have a sense of entitlement. He said,
They think themselves entitled simply because they exist and they are wonderful. And they think, therefore, every accolade is theirs, every cultural plum is theirs. You know, parents are so eager to see their child enjoy the cultural plum that rather than inspiring them to climb the plum tree, rather than teaching them how to climb, they’re buying them stepladders.
And the result is, McCullough might have added, they risk becoming bumptious fritterers!
Link to Diane Rehm Show
Listen to the audio
What do you think?
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