Wednesday, November 24, 2010

a good work ethic

sporting my newly crafted Saskatchewan RoughRiders hat
weight log: 213lb (I am tired of this weight let's get lower already)
I am a parent of four teenage boys. I think that one of my jobs is to teach them a solid work ethic (which is a euphemism for not being lazy). Since Tuesday of the first snow fall I asked my boys to shovel the driveway (I also ask them to shovel the neighbour’s driveway since he is old). With the onslaught of looming school work, I did not have the time to spend with them on this job. Each day after school when they would come in I would ask them whether they had done a good job. Each time they assured me they had. They were wrong. Their idea of good job meant that the packed snow underneath the tire ruts were left as is. Their idea of a good job meant that the garage doorway had been cleared for just enough space to plant one foot over the threshold. Mine was slightly different. By the time one week later I took the time to fix their lackluster effort one of my other neighbours had ‘conveniently’ brought his snow blower over to clear off our driveway. I hate snow-blowers – they pack just as much snow onto the driveway as they remove. So I spent 3 hours scraping my driveway while my boys intermittently lent their assistance to my project. I expect that they are more aware of my standards now.
I am glowing now with that tell-tale glow that one gets when you are frozen to the core of your being and the blood ever so timidly re-investigates the outer reaches of your capillary system. I am glowing with a certain parental one-up-man-ship. “I showed them what real work was all about.”
I tilt back in my chair with a hot cup of coffee and am dimly conscious of the sound of a video game playing in the background. Something occurs to me in my state of glowing that is irresistible and annoying at the same time. There has not been one time when I have ever asked my boys to be diligent in their video-gaming forays. I have never said, “Jesse you had better make sure you beat that monster in level 8.” I have never rebuked my son about his choice not to march his ancient army through the Spanish peninsula as would clearly be most prudent. I have never asked my sons to provide evidence of their scores, kills, or points after each day of game playing.
At first I am intrigued that there seems to be this whole new area of ‘accountability’ that I can use to reinforce the ‘values’ that I want to pass on to my boys. Of course this is just ludicrous thinking. Who uses video game proficiency as a way to mark, grade and sort labour. It’s just plain silly.
But then I think about my desire to have the boys demonstrate diligence in ‘real’ work with their hands. I wonder if this is going to make any sense at all to them or to their kids in a few years.
Growing up, I can still recall scenes of five and six year old boys running a single shovel plough behind an ox in Nicaragua. There is almost no chance that my boys will need to depend on that sort of diligence in the future to sustain their lives. So I begin to wonder why it is so important to teach the boys to work hard – do a good job – take pride in their work. Well, before I start sounding like a buffoon, I should say that the answer seems fairly self evident. Diligence in work is virtue regardless of what work one does. So I hope that my insistence on getting the job done right is actually something that will bear fruit in whatever labour they choose to engage in. More importantly, I want my boys to be independent. When their vehicle breaks down I want them to have the wherewithal to at least make an attempt to fix the thing. Not because that is the manly thing to do but because I want them to avoid the screw job they are going to get at Canadian Tire when they bring it there for repair. Luckily, my boys have had some fabulous employers who have been more than forbearing on their deficiencies. They report to me that my boys are hard conscientious workers. Phew!
But before I go back to glowing, I am stumped by a nagging question that just seems to avoid a satisfying answer. Why is it that some types of work/effort are seen as valid – almost natural while others seem well not even really like work at all? It seems likely that at least one of my sons will find employment in a field that will involve the use of technologies that will for all intents resemble the very video games they play today. So should I be asking them to diligently play video games? On a deeper level, am I prepared, as a parent, to avoid the condescending tone that goes with the words, “So when are you gonna find a real job?”
 We live in a world that is increasingly inaccessible. I still recall standing in sheepish chagrin over the disemboweled carcass of my new purchased Chevy Astro. My good friend was installing a water pump. I was a useless onlooker thankful that I had a friend who I could trust to get the work done. When one of the main bolts sheared off in removing the old pump I was in full panic mode. My hands were not even greasy but I was the one panicking. My friend calmly slid out from under the vehicle shut off the trouble light and causally said, “I’ll pick up a new in the morning and we’ll drill in out then.” A water pump is beyond my confidence level. Oil changes fine but that’s about it. My new cell phone on the other hand, I can’t do any maintenance on that. In fact if I do start to open the sucker up there is a sticker that tells me to leave it alone. I have only a few options all of which take the phone out of my hands. Return to store. Buy a new one. That’s it.
I’m a hard worker. I pride myself in that. I used to get winded from being over weight but now I think I am getting back to some of that old hard work form that once had. In the old days I used to work 12-14 hours a day setting and pouring concrete. Loved it. I am telling you that even in my peak athletic form there would be absolutely nothing I could do to fix my fricken phone!!! Those buggers who sell it to me have me over a barrel. In order to have a phone I can’t build one from scratch or fix my old one or upgrade it. I have to constantly be tied to their leash. So now tell me what is a good work ethic going to really look like in the future that my grand-kids will grow up into…?
For more on this stuff read the chapter: “The Contradictions of the Cubicle” in Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft

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