I was thinking about Labor Day as I woke up this morning, contemplating just what it means and how I could express that meaning in a way that makes some sense. The meaning is kind of tough to construct in modern times...at times...because I think we have become victims of our own success is some respects. Our society is now full of devices and gizmos and things that redefine the very meaning of leisure. Hell, when I was a kid it was a very, very big deal to go to the arcade at Rocky Glenn and blow a few dollars on the games. Fast forward to now and I've got a Wii, a Play Station 2 and an Xbox 360 at my disposal at home, all connected to HD televisions. I have more choices and far more thrilling experiences awaiting me in my office at home than what ever existed in any arcade anywhere in the world (circa 1978).
All of this has been created for us by our fathers, "the greatest generation", the ones who built the true American consumer society that emerged in the 1950's and continues to today. Of course that also creates something of a great hypocrisy of sorts, as that hard work seems to have created a society where hard work isn't as valued as it should be.
Yes, our society of today was built by people who worked their asses off day in and day out. This was, in part, because work was considered to be a noble endeavor, no matter what the work actually consisted of in the first place. Dr King said it best:
“Whatever your life's work is, do it well. A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better.”
But somehow I think we've lost part of that feeling. Parts of our society, particularly in some minority communities, believe that it isn't hard work that counts, but rather luck or, worse yet, athletic ability. Unfortunately these folks are really, really missing the point. Even those very small number of people who do find success in sports or entertainment realize that it's as much about hard work as it is anything else. Thomas Jefferson once said:
"I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it."
He is of course right. Sure, one out of 100 million may actually get some dumb luck and become a millionaire through no effort of their own, but in the real world that isn't going to happen. The rest of us have to live in a real world where we don't always get what we want, but if we work hard, we always get what we really need (with a nod to Mick & Keith on that one).
Maybe, must maybe, it's really about defining what "success" really means.
Does success mean that you have more money than you know what to do with? Nah, I don't think so. I can rattle of the names of countless musicians who had enough money to burn but yet were miserable. See "Life's Been Good" by Joe Walsh as a point of reference.
Think fame makes you happy? I referenced Lindsay Lohan in a number of postings over the past year when I talked about how detached the whole celebrity culture becomes from reality. By my thinking Ms Lohan is a miserable human being these days who is probably figuring out how to re-start her life such that maybe she can actually apply some of her talents without morphing back into a skeezy punchline.
For me, things like money and fame seem like opiates. Yes, I suspect that they can make you feel good, but that feeling is only temporary. Maybe the real trick to is find things that have a value over and above the immediate in your life. These would be things like working hard to support your family, being honest in your dealings, helping others, trying to make some small corner of the world a little bit better. In all of that there is a common theme: work.
There is a certain nobility in hard work that our society needs to do a better job of remembering. It's that nobility in effort that created what we have today, and I think only that nobility that can help our society endure over the long term.