Thursday, September 1, 2011

On Manual Labor

Last night was the 5th Wednesday in the month of August. Our ward has a tradition of allocating that evening for the young men and young women to provide service to people of the Bishop's choosing. All the youth from ages 12 to 18 typically attend and are sent out to spend roughly half an hour helping one or more families in the ward, often those who are sick or otherwise infirm.

Last night, I went with two other adult leaders, four boys, and two girls; the youth were all between the ages of 14 and 16. We went over to one man's house (who has recently been quite ill) in order to do some yard work for him. When we arrived, this man had already meticulously done more than half the work, and the lawn mower and an edge trimmer were already out and ready to go. Pretty much all that needed to be finished was the edging of the front lawn, the mowing of the front lawn, and a few branches trimmed off a tree in the front yard.

Frankly, I was NOT impressed with the youth. I understand that young people of every era aren't typically voluntary. But they all knew why we were there -- we were there to help in any way that we could. Instead, they goofed off most of the time, being silly with each other, until the adult leaders actively prodded them with an instruction to do something specific. Sometimes, even after a direct instruction, the youth would resist doing what they'd been asked, making an excuse of some kind or simply not responding.

Most infuriating was one boy who stood and stared at me as I instructed him to go get the leaf blower from the man who we were there to help and to do what he was doing. Another sad example was when one of the girls, when asked to use the edger and after I had shown her how to use it, told me she couldn't do it because she's a girl. Really?!

With six able bodies, we should've been done in about ten minutes. Instead, it took us the full half hour to prod these children to do the job.

Only one of the boys had actually used a lawn mower before. Only one! I know for a fact that every teenager that was there lives in a house with a yard, which implies that either their parents don't have them help with the outdoor work, or their parents hire gardeners. I can't fault the parents for using their probably hard-earned resources to pay for a gardener, but sometimes I wonder if we (and I include myself here) often do what is easy, rather than what is right. It is certainly easier to hire a gardener. It is certainly easier to do the work ourselves so that it gets done promptly and the way we want it done. Nevertheless, I feel that parents do their children a great disservice when they fail to provide them with opportunities to do some of this menial labor around their own homes. Last night crisply illustrated the point for me.

Now don't get me wrong. Usually, I'm quite impressed by the moral character and the spiritual strength of these youth, but last night, I was downright disgusted by their laziness and ineptitude. It seems to me that these youth do not have an understanding of the value of manual work, nor did they carry with them the spirit of volunteerism that is held by people who provide service to others. I could make excuses for the youth, citing how busy they are with school and extracurricular activities and church responsibilities, but I'm not going to, because there was really no excuse for the behavior I saw last night.

Personally, my wife and I have had a long-standing policy that the kids help with the chores in and around the house. My 11-year-old son actually mows the lawn now, and does a fine job of it, too -- and he is a full 4 years junior to most of the youth that were there last night. Am I perfect in this regards? Not on your life, but at least I'm making sure he gets exposed to hard work in the sun and the heat, and learning the value of hard work.

So, parents out there, my challenge to you: let your gardener go and get your teenagers to mow the lawn. It won't result in perfect lines in your lawn and beautiful edges, but it may just result in a more perfect child.

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