Friend of this blog Nylon12 made a fascinating comment in yesterday's post which (as these things often do) sent my mind down different paths as soon as I read it. The comment is thus:
"Agree about colleges/universities., how many prepare their students for the real world? How many teach the process of how to think/analyze/learn? How many employees give a full days effort for a full day's pay?
The place that mind went was "Where does one learn a work ethic?" Perhaps more intuitively, "Where did I learn a work ethic?"
If look at myself at least, it would have to start at home, especially with my father TB The Elder. All of my growing up years and even beyond when I left home, he worked at the same job. He left the house by 7:30 and arrived home by 6:00 PM. Perhaps as is usual with children growing up, I had a very vague idea of what my father did. I knew he worked for a utility company in the gas division, but was pretty vague on what that meant. I know better now; it meant days in the hot sun and rainy cold days, digging trenches and checking pipes and meters and dealing with emergencies as they came up.
Even at home, he had a work ethic likely drilled into him by a combination of poverty and his own father. The amount of time I remember my father just "sitting around" is fairly brief. He was always about something, be it around the house or at The Ranch on the weekends. The three breaks from that were: 1) Church on Sundays (which I suspect he grudgingly attended more often than not for many years); 2) and 3) When his beloved Dallas Cowboys or Los Angeles Dodgers were playing.
My work ethic "extended" itself when I got my first job at a fast food restaurant. Fast food was hot and greasy work and is on a pretty tight timeline (oddly enough, customers seem to prefer their food hot). Work was a series of tasks to be completed in a specific order - and as one got good at those tasks, one "graduated" to other tasks ( and for everything I have forgotten from that experience, I still cook a pretty mean burger). One did not leave until one's tasks were complete - and if I wanted to get off on time, I worked hard to make sure they all were done.
In my current line of work (let us be kind and call it "intellectual"), school helped a great deal. I have always been good at school for some reason because school made a lot of sense: study, learn the material, pass the test, move on. Classes, especially as one goes into high school and college, become much more defined. How to succeed was clearly known (generally speaking, at least in the day, it showed up as the "syllabus" on the first day of class). Understand what to learn, understand how to apply the knowledge and pass the tests, and one moved on - oddly enough as I think about it, much like what I do for a living now.
So what changed?
I am not a social scientist nor a trainer nor a labor consultant so I feel fairly unqualified to comment beyond a personal observational level - but I, at least see elements of the following:
1) Examples: This is a hard one for me to quantify as I have a limited pool of people (we all do), but it does occur to me that experientially, the biggest impact happens in the home, whether by direct family or other family members or close friends. Are those examples as strong as they were? If not at home, where are those examples coming from?
2) Experience: I would argue that my 1.5 years in fast food were some of the most formative in both my work ethic and my desire to get a better job (smelling like grease every day when you come home gets old pretty quickly). I knew that working hard was important; now I had to apply it in a real fashion. Effort without direction is just wasted effort (otherwise known as "flailing about").
Our children all held jobs through part of their high school and most of their college experience. We never really told them what job to have, especially in high school - two babysat very regularly (and made good tax-free money doing it) and one worked at a grocery chain - as what the job is was (to me at least) less important than learning the basics of showing up on time, commitment to the task - and learning how to save and pay for things. But how many children or even adults are gaining that experience now?
This extends, of course, to getting out of school and into the work force as well: a key component to reinforcing a work ethic is to gain the benefit of one's labors. Work and get nothing for it except the bare minimum and a tax bill and your desire to work can quickly dwindle.
In every generation, even the ones after mine, there are those that have a work ethic, that are working hard and well and succeeding. Every time I keep feeling depressed about such things, I read another story that stirs my resolve. Not everything is lost, and not all of a generation is doing the minimum amount required.
But there is one more thing about a society that loses its work ethic.
Those that lack the ethic can do so only as long as those with a work ethic continue to do what they are doing, and the society has the finances to support it. Drop out that bottom, either by those with a work ethic removing themselves from the labor force or the ebullient "we can pay for everything" financing collapsing and all of a sudden this surfeit of drafting ceases.
At that point, everyone will suddenly discover they either have a work ethic - or need to get one.