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An Impolitic Moment of Candor
The American work ethic appears to be in decline for a number of reasons, endangering the engines of effort, creativity, and achievement that have driven our success. The work ethic, however, isn't the real problem. Like so much around us these days, it is merely a symptom.
Many will point to the Covid-19 pandemic as the culprit. There is some truth to that, but it isn't the only culprit. I think of it as only one of the levers that are being pulled against us.
Government and societal reactions to the pandemic are deeply problematic. Workers and school children have been denied dynamic face time with classmates, teachers, and coworkers, and thus denied the learning, inspiration, and confidence of community that come with it. There is a loss of community, cooperation, commitment, trust, and creativity in our world as a result.
We are now into our second generation of workers who have not, in large measure, learned how to struggle and overcome adversity. Anytime there is a problem, parents and government rush to fix it. Experience and yes, even pain, are great educators. We have denied our children and society the benefit of their helpful instruction.
Government hasn't helped. Its response to the crisis was to dole out money it didn't have, thereby putting us into economic captivity for generations to come. Someone must pay the bill and it won't be the generation that created it. This largesse and associated economic interruptions (rent moratorium, etc.) created an environment where many feel no need to work, thus there is a labor shortage and talent bidding war. Those who do choose to stay in the workforce now enjoy an open season, leveraging corporate desperation to their advantage. Some college graduates now start their working career at $250K per year, supply chains are still a mess, and everything costs more and takes longer. All of these contribute to stifling inflation. No, the government has most definitely not helped.
And let's talk about the education system, shall we? Driven by social engineering agendas, it is no longer about facts and learning to think. In the land of the First Amendment educators are routinely bullied and driven out of our institutions of "higher learning." Social correctness is now more valued than moral principles, critical thinking, and even truth. We no longer teach these things, rather we practice thought control, creating angry automatons who are empowered to hate and belittle anyone who doesn't agree with them.
We have chosen demonizing over understanding, bullying over compromising, belittling over empathizing, and hate over love. Is that harsh? Yes, it is. It is also true.
Peggy pegs it again
Peggy Noonan is my favorite OpEd writer. At the end of her June 2nd Wall Street Journal piece on the debacle of the Uvalde, TX school shooting, she diverged to make a key point.
"I’m not saying, “Oh, America was once so wonderful and now it’s not.” I’m saying we are losing old habits of discipline and pride in expertise—of peerlessness. There was a kind of American gleam. If the world called on us—in business, the arts, the military, diplomacy, science—they knew they were going to get help. The grown-ups had arrived, with their deep competence.
"America now feels more like people who took the Expedited Three Month Training Course and got the security badge and went to work and formed an affinity group to advocate for change. A people who love to talk, endlessly, about sensitivity, yet aren’t sensitive enough to save the children bleeding out on the other side of the door.
"I fear that as a people we’re becoming not only increasingly unimpressive but increasingly unlovable.
"My God, I’ve never seen a country so in need of a hero."
Who are we, really?
We must face this reality: We are what we do, not what we say. Vision, effort, discipline, rigor, excellence, and pride - America was built on these things. They are not simply words but a part of our character and promise, either in the positive or the negative. As a nation, as families, as workers, and as a people we either exhibit rigor and excellence or we don't. We either demonstrate competence hallmarked by discipline and expertise or we don't. We either act towards others with honor, respect, and generosity of heart or we don't. Too often today we don't. We are more concerned about the things that divide us than those that unite us. We care more about demonizing our fellow citizens than we do about rolling up our shirtsleeves and doing the hard work alongside them, joining together to make ourselves and the nation better. Are we perfect? Not by a long shot. Do we suffer from past failures? Yes, we do. Are there problems in our social justice, wealth equity, education, and governmental arenas that need to be fixed? Yes, there are! Is tearing ourselves apart a good way to fix them? Not hardly.
We can do it again
There was a time when political parties hotly contested elections without using character assassination as a super weapon. There was a time when, after the election, those left standing actually focused on governing, not on winning regardless of the ethical and moral costs. Democrats and Republicans used to battle for their beliefs in the halls of government during the day and enjoy friendship and fellowship afterwards. Those personal friendships engendered a certain personal trust which in turn enabled compromise and momentum.
Race relations, equity in the workplace, the prosperity gap and a host of other social ills are the levers being used to pull us apart. Another government program, another tax, or another social mandate is not the answer to America's ills. Old fashioned good citizenship, opportunities to prove ourselves, and integrity is. Advancement by merit, fact-based education that teaches and encourages critical thinking, diligence and pride in what we do, be it as a doctor, a legislator, a soldier, or a farmer, and actual freedom of speech and respect for each other. These are the things that will make us a nation of achievement, peace, and honor again. If we are not all great, then we are less than we should desire to be.
Our ills are not things that should further divide us. They are problems to be solved. I am enough of an optimist to believe that if John Adams and Thomas Jefferson could do it, we can too. We need to decide that we will live and work together with honor, respect, and civility toward one another - then do it. The shadow that such a climate would cast over the nation would be large indeed.
America needs to get back to work. Together as compatriots, not as combatants. The question is: Do we have the desire, intent, and strength of will that are required to become our better selves?
Footnote: Noonan, Peggy, The Uvalde Police Scandal, (New York, Wall Street Journal, June2, 2022)
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