By Judith Costello
In his English class, my son has been studying the writing of the Puritans. To “balance” this out, the teacher also assigned an article by a modern writer who cries out against the concept that “hard work is a virtue.” The author says this emphasis on work/effort as character building and redemptive is bogus. We’ve been duped by a “puritanical idea,” he says.
What I want to know is why this “balancing” article was distributed at all? Either there are basic truths and good remains good because it is real, or moral relativism reigns and truth is whatever you want it to be.
We had long talks here at home about that article. Peter remembers that when he was in elementary school, he memorized poems for the talent show each year. In fourth grade he memorized one on the importance of hard work. In fifth grade he memorized one about maintaining a positive attitude no matter what. In sixth grade he and his sister performed a funny song/poem about staying organized. Those three were given to the kids for a purpose. Combined with Church, sacraments and Scripture, the children have been taught that this life will be difficult but through hard work, perseverance, prayer and a sense of joy and humor, they’ll come to know that God can be trusted and all will be well.
So now Peter is handed an article saying that hard work is a lie? For kids like him, I’m not worried. He said, “Mom, this promotes sloth/laziness and that’s a deadly sin!” But, there was no class discussion. Each student was left to decide between the writings of the Puritans (which admittedly is dry reading) and this short, quick read that says, “Dreamers are the future. Work is not necessary.” Which article would anyone looking for the easy way out prefer to adopt as a philosophy?
It was an interesting discussion here at home because my husband had just come across an article about William Bradford, the leader of Plymouth Colony, who feared for the welfare of his community back in the 1620s. They had a community farm and were sharing everything in common. But the work was difficult and the winters led to starvation. There was sickness and dissension among the pilgrims.
So Bradford decided to try something different. Each of the colonists was given their own land. They could make decisions about what to plant, when to plant and how to work the land. The people rose to the challenge. They worked side by side but with a sense of personal ownership and a renewed willingness to put forth great effort. They voluntarily helped out those in need — giving from their abundance. This work led to success and our country began to grow.
Of course the concept of hard work did not originate with the Puritans; it comes from their reading of the Bible. It is of course, also a natural law. Without work/effort there is decay and death. In spite of the derogatory appellation of “puritanical” (meant to suggest something controlling and repressive), the Puritans wrote poetry, started free schools, created a healthy economy and influenced history.
The poem Peter learned many years ago says, “It’s good to do the hard job … for the hard job strengthens courage which the easy never can, And the hard job when it’s over, gives the man a broader smile — For it brings the joy of knowing that he’s done a thing worthwhile.” It’s a poem called “The Hard Job,” written by Edgar Guest who wrote in the early part of the 20th century. If I had been teaching that English class, I’d give them this poem to say, “Truth endures. The values that were true back then are still true today.”
(Judith Costello is a freelance writer who grew up in Davenport and now lives in rural New Mexico. Her website is www.thedailychristian.com.)