Millions of Americans have become spectators in life, sitting on the sidelines and simply watching as others participate in one of life’s greatest endeavors. 1 in 5 American families misses out on the character-building, relationship-training activity that was ordained by God from the beginning of time. In 20 percent of homes, nobody works at all. Everyone in our society suffers as a result.
My first job was as a janitor. Monday through Friday for an hour and a half I went into a small office building and cleaned toilets, emptied trash cans. dumped ash trays and swept floors. I hated it. With no one else around it was lonely, quiet and even a little spooky at times. It wasn’t fun but it wasn’t supposed to be. It was a job. I learned responsibility, commitment and that being a janitor was hard.
As with many teenagers in the 1970’s and 80’s I had several other jobs during high school and college and each taught me important lessons. I scooped ice cream at Baskin Robbins, where I learned inventory management, customer service and how to negotiate a raise. I sold shoes at Thom McAn, where I learned sales techniques, how to close a deal, how to read a customer and that working retail means working evenings, weekends and holidays. I worked on a loading dock for Montgomery Ward, where I learned how to balance a refrigerator on a dolly and unload a truck. I worked for Vons grocery stores, learning more customer service, how to pick quality produce and the benefits and disadvantages of union membership.
In each job I learned what it meant to work, to set aside pleasure and leisure to do what needed to be done. I learned what it meant to be a part of a team and how to work with people who were different from me. I had good bosses and bad bosses, both of which helped me become a better manager and employer. I learned the value of a dollar and how long I had to work to earn something I wanted. I gained self-respect and learned what it meant to do my best even when no one else was watching, or worse, to work hard even when the people who watched did not appreciate my efforts. Every job, every task and every shift was a growth experience.
Today in America, in 1 out of every 5 families, there is no one who is benefiting from the blessings of work. The innumerable lessons are unlearned and are not passed on. There is no one modeling the self-discipline of getting up on time in the morning and making oneself look presentable for the day. No one learning to submit to and interact with a superior, no one learning to negotiate a better deal. No one pays income tax and contributes to society economically, no one participates in making something or providing a service to a customer. 1 in 5 families receives all of its financial support from society, is totally dependent on others for survival..
It is impossible to overstate the long-term negative impact on our society of such dependence. Beyond the obvious fact that no economy can thrive in the long term when 20% of its families do not participate in the production of goods and services is the reality that no culture can thrive if large segments of the population do not receive the education and personal growth that only work can bring.
Something needs to change. We need to quit referring to work as a curse and a chore to be avoided and view it for what it truly is, a blessing and an opportunity to be embraced, whatever or wherever the job may be.
Comments and questions are welcomed, and shared with friends appreciated. I can be followed on twitter @bartbarrettmd and can be reached through the website for personal questions or speaking invitation.