Mom always made us work on Labor Day. We expected a school holiday, but instead she made us clean the house including—and this is the God’s honest truth—scrubbing the linoleum floors on our hands and knees. She worked us like dogs.
Mom, and late Dad, always made us work hard, often doing long, grueling manual labor. We’d help with work around the yard and house, including getting knee-deep in green, smelly water to clean our fish pond several times a year (the small, concrete-lined pond is still there, and takes up most of the space in the small backyard). Mom and Dad instilled in their four kids a healthy work ethic.
There is a direct relationship between work and reward. The ultimate reward however is not money or material possession but in the intangibles. Through prodigious hard work comes true happiness; great satisfaction found in the simple things in life brings the most joy. Our human condition and our relationship with others in an imperfect and often absurd world become our most extraordinary and cherished moments. The kinship with our fellow human beings fosters the mindset that we have a responsibility to one another as part of a greater, collective good.
Our existence should endeavor us to meaningful work for the benefit of others. This in itself makes work rewarding and virtuous. We are happiest when we are most useful. We cripple the fabric of our society when we destroy the work of another, when we steal from someone else, believing we are entitled to the fruits of another’s labor.
Some have a misguided belief in socialism, an ideology based on a flawed assumption of human nature where people will readily accept an equal dole-out of resources from a purely altruistic government uncorrupted by power. It’s an invented system not born out of an evolution driven by natural human behavior, but by an unrealistic notion we will all act as obedient cattle, content with mediocrity, with no tendencies towards ambition, laziness or greed, and happy doing what we are required to do rather than what we are inspired to do.
Some folks miscast Jesus Christ as the ideal socialist, when he said something to the effect that (and I’m paraphrasing), “What’s mine is yours, and I give it to you freely.” This is kind-hearted, voluntary charity, not forced by someone more powerful. Instead, the socialist would say, “What’s yours is mine, and the government will take from you and give to me.” There is a world of difference.
The misconception of anarchists, socialists and the like is they’ve forgotten that a large population of people must work in order to benefit those who will not. Forced labor is inefficient and only creates drudgery and unhappiness. A free people doing work of their choosing, limited only by their imagination and work ethic, creates a robust and thriving society with an overall greater sense of happiness. This is the concept behind America. Which brings us full circle to Mom’s original decree of Labor Day’s meaning, although my personal twist is we all deserve some time off. Happy Labor Day!
©Randall S. Fong, M.D.
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