Yesterday I whined about society’s lack of work ethic.
I was pretty hard on young people because of smart phones. And video games. And social sites.
Fact is that the loss of work ethic goes beyond our youth, and goes further back than smart phones. And I know where it all began.
Way back in history, families would have dinner together. After dinner, the kitchen had to be cleaned and got ready for breakfast. One of these jobs was dish washing.
Plates and pans get dirty during dinner. Wash them. Dry them. Put them away to be ready for the next day.
Simple job. Perfect for kids.
Back in history, that’s what happened. Kids helped. When they were very small, they’d stand on a stool and watch. Maybe splash in the water and put their dirty hands on everything as well.
Truth of the matter is that when they are that young, they probably caused more work than not. But that’s fine. Today we call this “on the job” training.
Later they took on the simplest tasks. Drying. Stacking dishes. Maybe even collecting dirty things from the table.
They weren’t a lot of help, but it was something. Still “on the job” training, but also learning more important skills: teamwork.
Later, they became big enough. The big day finally arrives when the parent steps aside and says to the child, “It’s all yours.”
The collecting. The soaking. The washing, scrubbing, rinsing, drying, and stacking. Maybe even the prep work for tomorrow’s meal. The whole job.
When that exciting day comes, the child is truly excited. Not only are they exhibiting true mastery over an entire adult job by themselves, but they are proving to their parent that they are worthy of their love.
Wait, there’s more. The child is also proving that they can contribute to the welfare and well-being of the family. They are showing that they are trustworthy and productive.
All these are sources of pride they will have for a lifetime.
We’re not done. For as we all know, there comes a time in every job where the tedium catches up to our enthusiasm. Routine eventually buries our excitement, and all the earliest joys are forgotten.
In front of us is an eternity of dinners. All we see is an infinite pile of dirty plates. What hope is there then?
We learn to fight the tedium. We learn to hope when all seems lost. We learn that our family needs us. We learn that we must do our job, no matter how much we want to do something else, anything else.
And in that fight we learn something else. We learn how to make the job fun. We learn how to do it faster.
If we are lucky enough to have siblings, we may even learn how to work with others so that the job can be shared, or delegated.
Most importantly, we learn about ourselves. we learn what it takes for us to hold unto a task and complete it, no matter how much it hurts. We learn how to teach ourselves the tricks necessary to get through any task, no matter how small or large.
For that is what truly comes from dish washing. Not only clean dishes, for those are only a bonus. No, when a child learns to wash dishes they really learn self-respect, discipline, family productivity and family citizenship.
They are introduced to the principles of teamwork, job management, and maybe even personnel management.
So the lowly dishwasher job was not a minor job in our historical household, but a great teaching opportunity.
Someone invented a mechanical dishwasher.
Household engineers, overwhelmingly women, were overjoyed.
Generations of children were spared the experience of hand-washing dishes.
Today we pay the price.
For it isn’t only the dishwasher. It’s the snow blowers, the riding lawn mowers. It’s word processors instead of typewriters, and being driven to school instead of riding a bike. It’s allowances without chores. It’s sleeping in hotel rooms rather than under the stars.
Every single one of our “labor-saving” devices have come with a social cost. Only now, almost a hundred years later, are we beginning to feel the impact of those costs.
Join me and toss that dishwasher in the trash.
I will thank you today.
And your kids will thank you, too. Someday.