Hard Work as Tradition

“My grandfather helped raise me because my father wasn’t around. One day, after I got in trouble at school, he pulled me aside, and told me: ‘Your mother is having a hard time, so she’s not going to say it. But you need to work harder.’ Then he told me about how he immigrated from Honduras, and how he had to work very hard. And he told me about how hard my mother was working. And he said it was like a chain. And that I needed to honor their hard work, by working harder.”

There’s a picture from the Facebook page (which I usually like) called Humans of New York which you can see above and has the quote that I put in the description.

But just in case anyone has any trouble reading it:

My grandfather helped raise me because my father wasn’t around. One day, after I got in trouble at school, he pulled me aside, and told me: ‘Your mother is having a hard time, so she’s not going to say it. But you need to work harder.’ Then he told me about how he immigrated from Honduras, and how he had to work very hard. And he told me about how hard my mother was working. And he said it was like a chain. And that I needed to honor their hard work, by working harder.

Notice that there is no real underlying logic or reasoning behind this other than, “someone else did it before”. There’s no real reason why they had to work harder besides it being some sort of family pastime.

Now, I don’t know these people’s lives, what their mother was going through or what sort of work the grandfather was asking for besides maybe school work and thus getting better grades. So I am not trying to personally judge them or say that this was the wrong thing in this particular scenario. Perhaps it ended up having positive consequences, I don’t know for sure.

What I do know is that when you’re going to ask for someone for help and you want them to do a good job about it then you should probably do better in your reasoning then “someone did it before you so you should do it too”. And I also feel that there’s a lot of this kind of logic in today’s society. That work is just something you pass on from generation to generation unquestionably. Never trying to diverge from the path or do something different. Because of this the tradition of work becomes steeped in our culture even more. People are told that working harder is the key to their success or that it’s just the right thing to do and that questioning it shames them or their family or will make them lazy or a slacker (as if these things are inherently bad!).

There’s so much that is unsaid about all of these assumptions about what makes our lives worth living. Is school always a good choice? Are grades really a good signal of our worth or intelligence? Do schools actually help prepare us for the world around us? Could we do it some other way? Is “work harder” always going to make our lives better? Does it even benefit us in the long-run?

To be clear, I don’t think giving an extra effort or doing more for others is somehow wrong or worth decrying. I do think that having these things being asked on the basis of some sort of traditionalism or hard work seems to me to be wrong-headed. Mostly because there’s no real dialogue going on. Only a cultural convention that’s being silently perpetuated as the years and generations go by. There’s now way to engage with these movements or shifts but only to react or perpetuate.

So that anyone who decides to oppose is put in an uncomfortable social situation (either with family, friends, society, government, corporations, whatever) and made to feel like an outcast, a loser, undignified, not worthy of this or that thing, etc. There’s a whole host of things that society at large can do to make us feel like we should just perpetuate the existing order instead of developing our own paths.

One particularly powerful way is using the media to perpetuate stereotypes about those people who dare to resist or decide not to take part. That they’re losers or socially unappealing or that they’re damaged in some way. That in some important and fundamental way these people oppose the existing order because something is wrong with them.

Notice the shifting of blame here. There’s nothing wrong with the existing order of things! That would mean that we’d all have to change our habits, routines and our learned scripts about how to and how not to live! We can’t do that!

To be fair, on a personal level I can very much understand not wanting to change how you relate to a given day or the society around you. But with the right amount of effort (read: not needing to drive yourself into the ground about it) and strategies I think that a lot of things can be changed for the better.

Part of that is being a good example as a person. I make it no secret that I’m a slacker to friends and family but that doesn’t mean I don’t live up to commitments I do make (I am just sometimes slower about them) just that I usually am committed to taking less commitments than some may. It also doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with me or I am just a bad person to be around. I try to be a really caring and good person who supports his friends and those whom I love. And it’s not really just to undermine any preconceived notions of what a slacker must be but also for its own sake. I like being supportive and helpful to those I love and I don’t just do it (or even usually consciously do it) to undermine any sterotypes. I just like being helpful.

Regardless, I don’t think treating things in general as some sort of unquestionable traditions is a healthy way of looking at things. It reduces the dialogue, encourages social shaming and pressures that add up to make all of us “crazy” vagabonds a lot more crazy than we would be otherwise.

So hopefully as slackers become more and more better represented (mainly by themselves or by friends who like doing the work of representation) we can overcome these ideas about work and the frameworks that people use to justify them. Especially the ones that take us outside of the dialogue and under some sort of social dynamic or power that is hard to break free of.

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