More mean-spirited, hateful youth bashing
With an effort at an excuse for my crankiness and an offering on how young people ought to be taught to think about work
It’s the oldest game in town, played by a goodly portion of the old grouches. Let’s play Curmudgeon Tirade!
“Everything was better in my day!”
“These young whippersnappers today don’t know a damned thing!”
“The whole world is falling to pieces and it’s all the fault of people who had the bad taste to be born after the fall of the perfect utopia in which professional baseball had only Eastern and Western Divisions in both Leagues!”
I just did it with the ‘shorts in winter’ thing. I’m preparing to do it again. But hear me out for a second or two, eh?
Let me start here: I don’t even place most of the blame on the kids. It’s our fault. We did it.
“We” here is “their Generation X and late Baby Boomer parents,'“ who decided to more or less give up entirely on the invaluable moral education from which they (ok, we) benefited as young people because liberation and to each his own and rules are uncool and probably fascist, man and other such sentiments.
I wrote this a while back to speak to this theme.
Now I have a little more empirical evidence to submit in support of my earlier thesis. All anecdotes, I know, and, yes, I also know the limits to that kind of reasoning about questions concerning large groups of people such as generations.
The other day, I bought a pizza from the place where we have bought pizza for more than a decade. I’ve always liked them and their food. Friendly, family-owned, or at least it was. I suspect management might have changed recently, which may go some way in explaining what I’m about to discuss.
This time, though, my cheese pizza was burnt. Not just slightly browned. Badly burnt. Blackened. Even my wife, who likes well-cooked food much more than I do, said “It’s too burnt.”
There is no way such a thing could have escaped the notice of the person who took it from the oven, cut it up, and put it in the box. How do you justify sending such a product out to a customer for whom you have the slightest degree of care? Can’t be done.
I note that there are a couple of new and young employees working there in the past month or so in the food prep part of the kitchen, folks who do not look much like the older staff that has been there for years. They bear all the markers of their membership in this current generation: eyebrow piercings, tattoos that creep below shirtsleeve and up from necklines on front and back, personal demeanors that are more impersonal than those of the older staff. When running the register, for example, they will typically say nothing more to you than the minimum required: ascertaining your order and telling you how much it costs, the end. Very often, not even a “thanks!” Certainly no “Take care!” or “Have a great rest of your day!” Quite different than the pleasant chattiness and care of the older staff we have seen there for years.
Then, a day or two after this, at the grocery store blocks from our house, a young male clerk I had never seen before put bread and canned goods together in a bag. As I was taking the bag off the rack, I took the bread out and put it in its own bag, then double-bagged the heavy cans. I know he saw me do it. He then proceeded to put a bag of croissants into another bag with canned goods, and in yet another bag he stacked a half-gallon of milk on top of a flimsy plastic container of strawberries.
I didn’t want to make a scene and verbally call this to his attention, potentially embarrassing him in front of other staff and customers. So I just carefully and deliberately rebagged all of these as he watched. He made no comment, nor did he give any other indication that what I was doing was his job, though I was doing it correctly, and because he had failed to do it.
I didn’t stick around to see what happened to the next customer, but I know where the safe betting money is on that.
I return to the culpability of their elders in their evident lack of concern for doing their jobs minimally competently. Were they trained in a way to call their attention to the importance of fairly important things like not burning your customer’s pizza or practically ensuring that the expensive berries he has just purchased from you will be crushed on the ride home? Nothing could be less certain in today’s world.
Have I established my curmudgeon’s credentials yet? Not so fast, reader! Complaining about the youth is only the first part of the curmudgeon’s burden. A truly sour old grump will next turn to demonstrating how much better things were previously. And so…
Here are a few things I learned about work as a kid from my elders that I suspect at least the young people involved here were never taught. I wonder if they can be taught today without risking some kind of lawsuit or at least gales of nihilistic laughter from people who no longer believe in any of the moral framing underlying my own experiences:
Do the job right the first time. I learned it in this form: If you are assigned a difficult and time-consuming household task by your mother (cleaning the tub, for example), there are two possible routes open to you: a) take the required time to do it correctly, in which case that will be the end of it, or b) find a shortcut or otherwise do what is known where I’m from as a “half-assed job,” and inevitably be discovered on inspection by the relevant authorities for having done just that, and then guess what? You get to do the entire job again, this time correctly! The option open to the individual of even average IQ is obvious. Note well: no claim here that we were any wiser or more morally upstanding than today’s kids. We just had supervision that was dedicated (really dedicated, as in, prepared to mete out punishment that today would probably constitute at least a Class 2 misdemeanor) to making us do the work properly.
Reciprocity (or reciprocal altruism for evolutionary theory fans) is really, really important. When I had just started the first of several fast food service positions I held as a teen (at an establishment that my computer informs me is still there), I was complaining to my mother, or perhaps my grandmother, perhaps both, about how boring it was and how hard it was to even pretend to care about the quality of the work I was doing after about 20 minutes of a shift, and especially if any individual customer was grumpy with me. I was asked “OK, that makes sense. But you eat fast food sometimes, don’t you?” “Yes,” I admitted, already knowing where we were going. “So do you want somebody making your food with that attitude?” “No.” “Then do your part by not making their food with that attitude.” Game, set, match to Mom/Grandma.
You are what you do, and that includes your work, even if you happen to have a job at the moment that you don’t intend to be doing forever. You do not have to be a Puritan concerned about finding a way to emotionally manage the existential anguish of predestination to see your labor as an essential element of your person and therefore a reflection of the quality of your character. Is every single person who is lazy, careless, and lacking in conscientiousness at work a lazy, careless, unconscientious person in general? Probably not. But it’s a good working hypothesis that almost certainly is more accurate than not. It is not necessary to believe that your attitude toward your work is a reflection of the destination God has in store for you to understand that the good is more likely to drop into your life when you are prepared to give it in your work. (Best line ever from the Beatles?: “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make” See #2 above).
I was not raised by Puritans, but I did have the benefit of growing up in an American culture where one could still fairly readily encounter the aphorisms of Franklin’s Poor Richard, in the moral lessons of elders and in the printed pages of some of the popular literature of that time. Both my grandmothers had Reader’s Digest subscriptions and one always had a farmer’s almanac handy.
And of course there was another text, the basis of much in these other literatures, that was quite readily accessible, and to which our attention was often turned by our guardians. (One aphorism from it endlessly intoned to me by one grandmother still resonates in my brain nigh on 50 years later, and I find it indisputably true, even if one does not believe in devils: “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop.”)
Many of us were reluctant about that attention-turning in our youth. I certainly was. But how much shaping of souls was done by it despite the indifference or even the willful resistance of those whose souls were shaped?
I haven't even finished reading a quarter of this yet, but I know exactly what pizza place you are talking about because we've had displeasing service there as well, for the past year. Last week after yet another bad experience, we vowed, no more! Time for new pizza and stromboli horizons! Back to your rant now.