So, What’s This ‘Labor’ Thing All About Anyway?



My eight year-old son and I were doing some landscaping in our yard one day when he paused, looked up at me through squinted, sweat-soaked eyes and said, “Dad, wouldn’t it be great if we never had to work?”

To be honest, I can’t say I’ve never had the same thoughts, on occasion, especially on mornings when I’d rather sleep in an hour or two rather than get my rear-end out of bed and out the door (OK, that’s pretty much every morning, but I digress…). But I’ll readily admit that my son having those thoughts, at eight, scared me a little. For just a fleeting second, an image of an obese, slightly balding, bearded twenty-something playing video games in my basement surrounded by pizza boxes and half-empty Mountain Dew cans floated through my head.

I needed to teach my kid about work, and, for the sake of my wife and my happy (eventual) retirement and any name-sake grandchildren we’d like to someday have, I needed to do it fast.

So I waxed eloquent about God working to create the universe, about God commanding us all to work, about the nobility of the whole setup (cue angelic, uplifting music here). I went on and on, but then I had to sit down because my back was killing me from trying to move a gigantic rock into the proper spot. He sat down too. For an eight year-old, moving mulch and digging holes sounds fun in theory, and IS fun… for about 10 minutes. After that it’s just… well… work!work

Not always fun… Not always glamorous… Not always appreciated…

Not always an easy sell.

I could tell he wasn’t entirely convinced, so I took another approach. Nevermind that a significant percentage of people in this country actually get away (so far) with not having to work, imagine if EVERYBODY stopped working, stopped producing, Atlas Shrugged style.

What would happen?

At this question, my brilliant economist-in-the-making son proceeded to say, “The stores would give all their stuff away to everybody, and we wouldn’t have to spend any money.”

Now granted, my son’s logic is about as sound as the logic of your typical Big Government Type these days, but that wasn’t the answer I was looking for. So, I proceeded to guide him along the path of a little thing we call logic:

If everybody stopped working, truly everyTHING would stop working. That means no electricity, no TV, no running water, nothing. Who would keep those things running if nobody worked? From toothbrushes and dental floss to stocking the grocery store shelves, who would make and deliver the things we use every day, if nobody got out of bed and went to work?

Sure, maybe you could just ‘work’ enough to build your own house (after all, we were doing our own landscaping that day), but you’d have to cut the trees yourself, using tools you made yourself, and glass, doorknobs, and other items you somehow fashioned, yourself.

The point is, people have always had to work to live, but HOW we live is determined by how smartly we do it. Economies progressed over the centuries because people learned to specialize. If one person became really skilled at being a tailor, he could sell his services to the person who was skilled at wagon-making, who could in turn sell his services to the farmer who grows food for everyone in his community. Work, specialization, is what makes the world turn around. It is the engine that drives our standard of living. Without it, life wouldn’t be worth living.

Let’s face it, ‘work’ is a dirty word these days, but it shouldn’t be. No matter what it is, from the janitor who is good at making sure places are clean enough so others can do the things THEY are good at, to the assembly person who completes a step in the process of making one of the countless items we use every single day, to the visionary who invents new miracles and makes millions doing so, to the artist who fashions something others are willing to pay to see, work is creating, work is magical, and yes, work is noble.

Before the fall of man, God still told Adam and Eve to do work. And when things are again restored, we’ll still do work, for all of eternity.

Government today doesn’t believe that. It believes certain people, instead of working, should be given the products of other people’s labor. The percentage of those who take is beginning to overtake the percentage of those who produce. This is, quite simply, an unsustainable recipe for disaster.

I’m not sure if my eight year-old grasped all that or not, but being close to dinnertime I thought of one last point to make.

“You know, son, the Bible says that if you don’t work, you shouldn’t eat.”

Judging by how wide his eyes became at that point, I think he finally got it.


This post first appeared on Staffing Talk 6/16/13