Children should experience the dignity of labor
By Rabbi Ben Kamin
SAN DIEGO – My stepson recently was hired for his first-ever job, a part-time tenure scooping and selling ice cream. He brings home some change in his pocket from the modest tips and he mentions the long hours and the pain in his shoulder from grappling with the brick-hard cold stuff. But there’s a little lift to his step; he likes the responsibility and the feeling of worth that has nothing to do with the pay check.
On this summer-ending holiday weekend that exalts labor, it is good to consider that work is a gift in and by itself. What working or volunteering actually do for the human spirit is lost in the rush of Labor Day shopping excursions, backyard picnics, and swimming pool closings. We parents would plead for a national day of reflection on the power and redemption of work–especially as it applies to our children. This would be especially valuable as families contemplate the pending anniversary of the September 11 attacks, and even the coming presidential election.
Many American children have a lot, but they feel little. We supply them an endless cornucopia of stuff but we don’t necessarily allow them the fruits of their own labor. They have a wealth of information, but they are depleted in experience. It is a fair guess that a significant portion of teenagers don’t even know that Labor Day is a uniquely western festival having to do with the advent of labor unions and workers’ rights.
While Labor Day was invented to protect wages, labor itself protects people from listlessness. Many educators believe that meaningful and appropriate labor can also be transforming for children. Ask most any schoolteacher or guidance counselor: In order to feel good about themselves, children must toil or complete a creative project on their own. Being handed material things, empty flattery, or patronizing remarks about their looks or background do not create lasting self-esteem. Doing productive work that is dignified and fair does.
An irony: We parents have never been working harder. We venerate work, are driven by work, and allow work to even contravene quality family time. Yet we are afraid of work for our children. We give them the material benefits of our own productivity, but deny them the spiritual benefits of producing things for themselves. Human beings, including children, need to engage in meaningful work that asks all of us to sacrifice something and not just gain a paycheck. There are internal rewards that do not turn up on evaluation forms or salary statements. These are increments to the soul that, if not learned by children every day, will continue to make Labor Day just another day.
Rabbi Kamin is a freelance writer based in San Diego. This article also appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer
Short URL: http://www.sdjewishworld.com/?p=30885