I believe meaningful work sustains the body and spirit. I believe well-deserved rest, relaxation, and time for family and friends does the same. I have long struggled to affirm these two beliefs. It’s a simple matter to state with great conviction that I believe them; it’s another matter to demonstrate that I believe them. And, in my mind, I cannot convince myself of my belief, unless I experience my belief in a chosen way of life.
During my childhood, my family, church, and community treasured familiar sayings such as, “The best things in life are free,” and “The most important things are things money can’t buy.” We never elaborated too much on those most important things, but I somehow knew these things involved cherishing family and friends, enjoying the expansive Oklahoma countryside, and a peaceful walk with the dog through the neighborhood. Of course, family members need food, shelter, and clothing. Dogs need veterinary care, and maintenance of the neighborhood requires tax money. Thinking of these things leads me to another set of beliefs I acquired from my family and community. We believed in “hard” work. I’m not completely sure what we meant by adding the adjective hard in front of work. We never fully explained our thoughts to each other. It seemed we meant that work often should involve sacrifice¾ sore muscles, years of education, taking on debt for student loans, giving up leisure and family time, and accepting risk. We heard news stories of unions demanding safer working conditions, fewer hours, and generous overtime pay and reacted with disgust. Pampered babies! Didn’t they know that hard-working people didn’t complain? Hard-working people accepted their lot with a firmly set jaw, a determined spirit, and the knowledge that “the early bird catches the worm.”
The early bird theory was really key, now that I think about it. “Hard work” would one day bring rewards. College education for one’s children, a home, a car (well, probably two cars), and peaceful retirement free of worries would naturally fall into place for those who worked hard.
Through the years, I’ve known some people who seemed shiftless, lazy, and unwilling to work. I’ve known many more who made extraordinary sacrifices for their jobs. I’ve witnessed divorces caused by excessive overtime and job-related travel. I’ve watched good kids get into trouble while moms and dads worked to provide a larger home and backyard pool. Sometimes the result of these sacrifices and loyalty to a company is layoff or early retirement.
And there are many struggling people¾parents, with low to barely adequate incomes, who must work long hours to keep their jobs. They worry about their children, their aging parents, and troubled communities, but have no choice available other than to accede to employers’ demands.
I believe we Americans should contemplate a balanced work ethic. The challenge of providing material needs, distinguishing between luxuries and genuine needs, and valuing the most important things in life (the things money can’t buy) has never been greater.
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