Have you seen the internet story that begins in this manner?
“A young man went to seek an important position at a large printing company. He passed the initial interview and was going to meet the director for the final interview. The director saw his resume, it was excellent. And asked,
“Have you received a scholarship for school?”
The boy replied, ” No.”
“It was your father who paid for your studies?”
“Yes.”- He replied.
“Where does your father work?”
“My father is a Blacksmith”
The Director asked the young to show him his hands. The young man showed a pair of hands soft and perfect.
“Have you ever helped your parents at their job?”
“Never, my parents always wanted me to study and read more books. Besides, he can do the job better than me.”
The director said:
“I have got a request: When you go home today, go and wash the hands of your father and then come see me tomorrow morning.”
The boy complied with the request, and what do you think he discovered?
Were his father’s hands soft and perfect as his own?
“It was the first time that he noticed his father’s hands were wrinkled and they had so many scars. Some bruises were so painful that his skin shuddered when he touched them.
This was the first time that the young man recognized what it meant for this pair of hands to work every day to be able to pay for his study. The bruises on the hands were the price that he payed (sic) for their education, his school activities and his future.”
After realizing his father’s sacrifices, the boy spoke with his father and assisted him with the work in his shop. The following day that boy now with tears in his eyes returned to the director’s office.
“Now I know what it is to appreciate and recognize that without my parents, I would not be who I am today. By helping my father I now realize how difficult and hard it is to do something on my own. I have come to appreciate the importance and the value in helping the family.”
The director said,
“This is what I look for in my people. I want to hire someone who can appreciate the help of others, a person who knows the hardship of others to do things, and a person who does not put money as his only goal in life. You are hired.”
This story ends with the following on parenting:
“A child that has been coddled, protected and usually given what he wants, develops a mentality of ‘I have the right ‘ and will always put himself first, ignoring the efforts of his parents. If we are this type of protective parent are we really showing love or are we destroying our children?
You can give your child a big house, good food, computer classes, (time to) watch on a big screen TV. But when you’re washing the floor or painting a wall, please let him experience that too.
After eating have them wash the dishes with their brothers and sisters. It is not because you have no money to hire someone to do this it’s because you want to love them the right way. No matter how rich you are, you want them to understand. One day your hair will have gray hair, like the father of this young man.
The most important thing is that your child learns to appreciate the effort and to experience the difficulties and learn the ability to work with others to get things done.”
Regardless of form, that story resonates with me. I typically begin my history courses with some variation of this concept.
“The only reason that anyone, you, me, anyone is here in this classroom right now is become somebody else in the past did something or failed to do something. It’s easy to think about the people who that were just a minute or so ago, but could there also be individuals and events of which we know or perchance are unaware that happened far away or long ago?”
Yes I often recite passages from John Donne, talk about a butterfly flapping its wings, pebbles dropping into the ocean, and similar things which receive blank stares from some, looks of confusion from a few, nods either in affirmation or fear of what grade will I get in this class, occasional questions such as “is this US History I?” or “what do butterflies and pebbles have to with the History of the New South?,” and fortunately a visual of some lightbulbs (incandescent but the transformation to LED is occurring) appearing over the heads of different students.
If it is a post-Civil War US History based course, I typically try to drive my point home not with a claw hammer and nail but with a sledge and railroad spike. It always amazes me in the number of students who have never thought about how the time zones in this country developed.
In getting back to the theme of this post, what is it that I hope to learn in the year 2015.
Whether it was sitting in that packing shed, working out in the berry field, standing in that K&B stockroom, any classroom, or here at my desk tonight looking at the trees shaking in the moonlight as the squirrels leap to and fro, the knowledge that I am a mere speck in the universe is humbling. Who or what has treaded upon the ground outside before these trees established their roots is unknown. It is history? It is America? It is me? It is you?
Think about those people of prior generations:
No matter where they worked, no matter how times were tough, they always had faith that there was something different about this country; that in this country, you have some God-given rights: a life in liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and a belief that all of us are equal, and that we’re not guaranteed success, but we’re guaranteed the right to work hard for success.
They understood that, and they understood that succeeding in America wasn’t about how much money was in your bank account, but it was about whether you were doing right by your people, doing right by your family, doing right by your neighborhood, doing right by your community, doing right by your country, living out our values, living out our dreams, living out our hopes. That’s what America was about.
I see my grandparents. When I see your kids, I see my kids. And I think about all those previous generations — our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents. Some of them came here as immigrants, some were brought here against their will. Some of them worked on farms, and some worked in mills, and some worked in mines, and some worked on the railroad.
Think about today:
It’s fashionable among some pundits — and this happens every time America hits a rough patch — it’s fashionable to be saying, well, this time it’s different, this time we really are in the soup; it’s going to be hard to solve our problems. Let me tell you something. What’s missing is not big ideas. What’s missing is not that we’ve got an absence of technical solutions to deal with issues like education or energy or our deficit.
About what’s missing:
I’ve got a different idea. I do believe we can cut — we’ve already made a trillion dollars’ worth of cuts. We can make some more cuts in programs that don’t work, and make government work more efficiently. Not every government program works the way it’s supposed to. And frankly, government can’t solve every problem. If somebody doesn’t want to be helped, government can’t always help them. Parents — we can put more money into schools, but if your kids don’t want to learn it’s hard to teach them.
As I stare out the window:
What this reminded me of was that, at the heart of this country, its central idea is the idea that in this country, if you’re willing to work hard, if you’re willing to take responsibility, you can make it if you try. That you can find a job that supports a family and find a home you can make your own; that you won’t go bankrupt when you get sick. That maybe you can take a little vacation with your family once in a while — nothing fancy, but just time to spend with those you love. Maybe see the country a little bit. That your kids can get a great education, and if they’re willing to work hard, then they can achieve things that you wouldn’t have even imagined achieving. And then you can maybe retire with some dignity and some respect, and be part of a community and give something back.
I think about one of my high school classmates who is a volunteer Fire Chief.
The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.
It’s like the young boy and his father from the internet story where the director opened the boy’s eyes to the contributions of others. You know we often hate being told that we have to do something but in hindsight realize that our doing that was for our own benefit. It’s different how we can perceive something in the abstract versus when the perspective is focused upon us. That’s why we need to be open minded, collected, and responsible.
That’s the idea of America. It doesn’t matter what you look like. It doesn’t matter where you come from. It doesn’t matter what your last name is. You can live out the American Dream. That’s what binds us all together.
Agree or disagree?
The non indented block quote formatted words above typed in italics are not my words. They were spoken at a fire station in Roanoke, Virginia, on 13 July 2012. Sadly one might agree with the sentiments, but the acuity is skewed by other factors leading to disagreement.