Ever worn Overalls?
Thomas Edison once said "The reason a lot of people do not recognize opportunity is because it usually goes around wearing overalls looking like hard work." I have to admit that I have never worn overalls but I think that Edison reminds me of a time when hard work and industry were valued differently than they are today. I saw that change in the 1970s when people clichéd about working smarter not harder - that statement seemed to subtly disparage the value of the kind of work done in overalls. I like the way that David Brooks begins his column titled "Religion and Inequality" ...
About a century ago, Walter Judd was a 17-year-old boy hoping to go to college at the University of Nebraska. His father pulled him aside and told him that, though the family had happily paid for Judd’s two sisters to go to college, Judd himself would get no money for tuition or room and board. His father explained that he thought his son might one day go on to become a fine doctor, but he had also seen loose tendencies. Some hard manual labor during college would straighten him out.
Judd took the train to the university, arrived at the station at 10:30 and by 12:15 had found a job washing dishes at the cafeteria of the Y.M.C.A. He did that job every day of his first year, rising at 6 each morning, not having his first college date until the last week of the school year. Judd went on to become a doctor, a daring medical missionary and a prominent member of Congress between 1943 and 1963. The anecdote is small, but it illustrates a few things. First, that, in those days, it was possible to work your way through college doing dishes. More important, that people then were more likely to assume that jobs at the bottom of the status ladder were ennobling and that jobs at the top were morally perilous.
I like the way that Brooks goes on to say that the hard work of the working class was once the moral bedrock of our nation. Once people like Walter Judd's father understood first hand that success was meaningless without hard work. I wonder, in these get-rich times, if we can ever recover the idea that working hard is a smart and noble way to live?