In general, my father’s generation put great stock in measuring a person’s character by their willingness to work. If you didn’t have a job or weren’t willing to take a job – any job when one became available – then you weren’t much of a man. Perhaps the late cartoonist Al Kapp best described the attitude of the time when he said, “Anyone who can walk to the welfare office can walk to work.”
Of course, the times were different. America by and large was still an agricultural nation. The steel mills of Gary and the Texas oil fields were still fertile grounds for endless employment. Pride was not a dirty word when it came to working for a living. A man’s essential obligation was to provide for his family. That was his responsibility and his alone.
Charity and handouts were strictly for those incapacitated or unable to hold a job. Then, from those who did work, charity came swiftly and often.
Oftentimes, part of the school curriculum when it came to character building was to how to look for work and how to hold it down once you found a job. “Yes sir” or “Yes ma’am” was how you addressed those from whom you were seeking employment. You learned that no matter how humdrum or ordinary the job might be, you always wore a tie when applying. And of course your pants were always pulled up, your shirt was tucked in and a belt was worn.
You learned that in order to get a job, you filled out applications until there was nowhere else to fill one out, and then you started all over again. Then in order to keep a job, you showed up every day and on time. Lateness was inexcusable, almost as much as was laziness.
As I was growing up on a farm, these lessons were passed on to me by my father and mother. It was put to me in simplest of terms: “If you don’t work, then you don’t eat.” Loving food as I did, I chose to work.
There were a lot of jobs that I did, many of which weren’t all that exciting. But that’s the way it was. I’ve shoveled cow dung, been a dishwasher, dug ditches, operated machinery, picked tomatoes, been a cook and anything else that would pay the rent and put food on the table.
So now as I approach the time when retirement might be considered, I am profoundly confused by the state of many Americans’ attitude toward work. And although jobs may be scarce, I tend to believe that one’s work ethic needs to be as sharp as a razor’s edge.
When the subject of illegal immigration comes up, I hear the supporters of those here illegally suggesting that immigrants are needed to work the jobs that Americans are unwilling to take.
Are you kidding me? What job? Where?
Then there are the attitudes of many of our young when it comes to seeking employment. I have heard numerous employers complain that when it comes to the interview process, too many young people take the importance of looking presentable and presenting a mature image for granted. A personal acquaintance of mine who is a restaurant manager explains, “I see these kids coming in with pierced lips and eyebrows, they’re showing too much flesh, which in turn displays graphic tattoos. They sit across from me unable to speak coherently, they sit slumped in the chair, they’re unshaven and their writing skills are atrocious! And when considering the possible reactions of my customers, I have to ask myself, do they want a job or don’t they? My opinion, not very bad they don’t!” That kind of sums it up for me.
Pride often motivated many of us to work even harder at finding a job and kept us from accepting welfare. But that seems to have gone out with the bath water. New York Post columnist Michael Goodwin boldly stated in an interview describing the exploding numbers of American accepting government assistance, “Shame used to be a part of this. Now we look at it and we’ve seen this explosion of entitlements and the sense of shame is gone.”
When it comes to work, even when the times were tough, what once was the norm is no longer.
As former professional baseball player Sam Ewing (who also holds a master’s degree in sports physiology) once described, “Hard work spotlights the character of people: Some turn up their sleeves, some turn up their noses, and some don’t turn up at all.”