The Dignity of Work & The Will to Choose It5 min read

Think about Santa. He works all day every day without pay to get ready for one exciting night when he works harder than he has ever worked before in order to bring happiness.

Think about Jesus. He worked every day of His mortal ministry; teaching, leading, healing, walking, serving others, and travailing to prepare Him and us for the one night and day that He worked harder than He ever worked before to bring happiness and peace to the world.

Think of the American Dream. Every person has the freedom to work hard every day doing what they want to do and create businesses, nonprofits, necessities of life, spread goodness and even change the world. Rafael Cruz said, “Only in America can someone start with nothing and achieve the American Dream. That’s the greatness of this country.” That’s the power of work.

Work vs. Work

I recently watched a TV program called, “A Corgi For Christmas.”  The main character was a workaholic who struggled to live according to her priorities instead of pleasing her co-workers. The woman was given a puppy to care for, and it brought her back to reality and changed her focus to family and enjoying the Christmas holiday.

Society is openly critical of people who work too much on making money at times when they should be working on the business of family and living according to their priorities. Both time at the office and time spent with family are work. The best work/life balance involves focusing on family as the highest priority, and having work be the other way to focus on helping the family. But, it’s vital that work not be allowed to hijack times that are healthy for families to bond. This means family time should be scheduled and respected.

The Decline of Dignity

A mother, Julie, recently asked, “Nicholeen, I have four children ages 11-18 and none of them will help out around the house unless I nag them. I hate being a nag, but it’s so frustrating when they disregard my instructions. I’ve tried not to be too hard on them. They only have to keep their rooms clean and help with dishes a couple of nights a week, but they won’t even do those things. Do you think I’m expecting too much from them?”

I said, “…At their ages, they are developmentally able to do every chore you can do. Maybe you are making things too easy on them. I recommend giving them more chores, not less…”

Parents are busy and their energy and minds are spread thin. Coddling children is at an all-time high, so work is not getting the dignity it deserves. When we are afraid to teach our children to work, or give the impression that we don’t like the work of parenthood or adulthood through our actions and emotions, then we could be unknowingly teaching children that work is bad. When parents give a negative impression to children, or when we whine about our work with other adults, we lead to the decline in the dignity of work.

“There is evidence to support that at least in the United States the problems of stress and tension might be linked to a gradually decreasing average number of hours worked by the labor force. The suggestion is that free time, not work, might be a major cause of stress and tension in individuals…teach the dignity of work.” (Our Precious Families; Loren C. Dunn, 1974)

Dignity and Decisions

Dignity means being truly honorable, and consists of truth, justice, and a high sense of propriety. (Webster’s 1828 Dictionary) Work is only honorable and proper if we decide that it is. When the baby wakes us up at night, the weeds need pulling, or the report needs finishing, we can choose to be happy, feel dignified, and improve our work ethic. We can honor our work with a good attitude.

When I asked Porter, my 16-year-old son who farms our little piece of land with me, builds houses with his father, and works two other jobs as well as school, to describe a good work ethic, he said:

“I work with lots of people who are lazy and try to do the least amount possible. It’s annoying. They hold everyone else back. I also know I always get given the hardest jobs. That can also be annoying. But, I know I get given those hard jobs because I know how to work. I’m glad you and Dad raised me to know how to work so that I feel free to make something of myself. When I’m at work, even if it’s washing dishes for the restaurant I work for, I do my best and work fast. I think that’s why I regularly get the dishes assignment. No one else does it like I do.”

If Porter had to choose between sleeping in and weeding the yard, he’d pick sleeping in first. But, after a short stint of laziness, he gets itching to get his hands dirty and do something useful. Why? Because he knows how good that usefulness feels and he likes to feel himself solving problems, creating, and making progress on his goals. So, he chooses to get up and get going each day and fills his time with all kinds of work. It’s a source of happiness for him! In fact, as his mother, I’ve noticed that he is less happy when he’s been spoiled, indulged on vacation or screens, or is out of the habit of working. So, I keep helping him choose work by first choosing it for him.

Parents have a right and a responsibility to teach their children the dignity of work. The future happiness of our society depends upon it. Think of Christmas, Easter, Independence days, Thanksgiving holidays, birthdays, and the Sabbath. These days, which we celebrate, commemorate other days of intense work. And, they are days when we realize that the work we do is really worth it. Decide to have and teach the dignity of work.

Here is a video about teaching children to work without nagging them.

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