Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Value of Work

We are reading The Book of Virtues by William J. Bennett. It is a very large tome, but we read a small chunk almost daily and are currently about half way through it.

Right now we are in the section called : Work. Each time a new virtue is introduced, there is a few paragraphs discussing it. I read and re-read a couple sections to the children. They seem to have a real issue with work. Some more than others, but if I don't constantly supervise and work alongside, they will not complete their morning chores. No sneaking off for a morning coffee for me. *Sigh* Someday they will learn...

The truth is, I found the introduction quite enlightening for me too, so in the end, here it is in it's entirety:

"'What are you going to be when you grow up?' is a question about your work. What is your work in the world going to be? What will be your works? These are not fundamentally questions about jobs and pay, but questions about life. Work is applied effort; it is whatever we put ourselves into, whatever we expend our energy on for the sake of accomplishing or achieving something. Work in this fundamental sense is not what we do for a living, but what we do with our living.

Parents and teachers both work at the upbringing of children, but only teachers receive paychecks for it. The housework of parents is real work, though it brings in no revenue. The schoolwork, homework, and teamwork of children are all real work, though the payoff is not in dollars. A child's household chores may be accompanied by an allowance, but they are not done for an allowance. They are done because they need to be done.

The opposite of work is not leisure or play or having fun, but idleness -- not investing ourselves in anything. Even sleeping can be a form of investment if it is done for the sake of future activity. But sleep, like amusement, can also be a form of escape -- oblivion sought for its own sake rather than for the sake of renewal. It can be a waste of time. Leisure activity or play or having fun, on the other hand, can involve genuine investment of the self and not be a waste of time at all.

We want our children to flourish, to live well and fare well -- to be happy. Happiness, as Aristotle long ago pointed out, resides in activity, both physical and mental. It resides in doing things that one can take pride in doing well, and hence that one can enjoy doing. It is a great mistake to indentify enjoyment with mere amusement or relaxing or being entertained. Life's greatest joys are not what one does apart from the work of one's life, but with the work of one's life. Those who have missed the joy of work, of a job well done, have missed something very important. This applies to our children too. When we want our children to be hppy, we want them to enjoy life. We want them to find and enjoy their work in the world.

How do we help prepare our children for lives like that? Once again, the keys are practice and example: practice in doing various things that require a level of effort and engagement compatible with some personal investment in the activity, and the example of our own lives.

The first step in doing things is learning how to do them. (And learning how to turn on the television doesn't count -- although learning how to turn it off might.) Good habits of personal hygiene, and helping with meals or bed-making or laundry or caring for pets or any other such household chores all require learning. All can be done well or poorly. All can be sone cheerfully and with pride, or grudgingly and with distaste. And which way we do them is really up to us. It is a matter of choice. That is perhaps the greatest insight that the ancient Roman Stoics championed for humanity. There are no menial jobs, only menial attitudes. And our attitudes are up to us.

Parents show their children how to enjoy doing things that have to be done by working with them, by encouraging them and appreciating their efforts, and by the witness of their own cheerful and conscientious example. And since the possibilities for happy and productive lives are largely opened up for youth by the quality and extent of their education, parents who work most effectively at providing their offspring with what it takes to lead flourishing lives take education very seriously.

Work is effort applied to some end. The most satisfying work involves directing our efforts toward achieving ends that we ourselves endorse as worthy expressions of our talent and character. Volunteer service work, if it is genuinely voluntary and exercises our talents in providing needed service, is typically satisfying in this way. Youth needs experience of this kind of work. It is a good model for our work lives."

Now I'm off to get some work done and to perhaps have several of my children working alongside me.


  1. That is very interesting! Thanks for your comments on my blog!

  2. Wow , that is very interesting! Thanks for commenting on my blog! :)


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