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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Monday, May 01, 2006

Something for Nothing by Trish Milburn

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
— Thomas Edison, inventor and businessman

When I was a kid, I remember rolling my eyes at adults who would talk about how much things had changed since they were young, how young people didn’t know how good they had it. I remember thinking, “I won’t be like that.”

Uh, well, I was wrong.

But I’m not talking about changes in fashions or music preferences. I’m talking about what I’ve come to think of as the plague of entitlement, that sense that we want it all right now and don’t want to work too hard for it, that the world owes us something. I’ve seen it in just about every aspect of life – potential homeowners refusing to pay anywhere near the asking price for a house because they “can’t live without hardwood floors and marble baths”; college graduates who go into debt up to their eyeballs so they can have the best of everything right out of the gate; writers who think they shouldn’t have to work too hard or stoop to writing what the market demands or who think if they have to wait two weeks to hear back from an editor or agent it’s the end of the world; or some people so used to living off the government that they think the government owes them a check every month. It all comes down to a lack of respect for the good, old-fashioned work ethic — one of the building blocks on which this country was built.

And before you picture me as some tottering, old lady thinking back to the days of the Great Depression when people really had to work hard to survive, here’s a news flash. I’m 35 years old. It hasn’t been that long since I was a high school or college student. And while there was the occasional student who didn’t have to work for his car or her sequined prom dress back when I was a teen, they were the exception rather than the rule. I don’t know when things started to change, but change they have. Yes, you still see teens working the counters at McDonald’s, but you also see kids using their credit cards to buy term papers off the Internet. I judge an annual writing contest sponsored by my former employer, and it’s amazing how little effort is seemingly put into the entries, supposedly from the top students in their classes. There’s no pride in the effort, no pride in something accomplished by hard work.

I have the sad suspicion that if I were to tell many teenagers that they would appreciate the possessions they have a lot more if they had to work for them, they’d either laugh at me or look at me as if I’d lost my mind. Not all of them of course, but enough that I think it can safely be called a trend.

So, what caused this shift in attitude? Was it the economic prosperity of the 1990s? The daily deluge of glitzy media images? Was it just a natural, generational progression? Or do we all just have a lazy gene somewhere in our DNA? What do you think?


At 1:54 PM, Blogger Kiki, aka Esri said...

I think it was the "new economy" of the 90s. A lot of people made a lot of money for doing not a lot during the dot-com bubble. People who lost money paid for the internet's infrastructure, of course, but people aren't as eager to brag about the vast sums they lost on speculating as people who made money.

Also, we have a bigger split between rich and poor than we've had in a long time -- maybe ever. Paris Hilton is the no-talent poster child for having it all without doing any real work. She has it all because she's the daughter of Hilton Hotels, but the press doesn't talk about that, so the impression people get is that all it takes to be rich is a certain slutty prettiness and the willingness to stay up late. I used to think that talent/reality shows created people's unreal expectations, but of course, it's the other way around. People want to believe that they can become rich and famous overnight because of a lucky break. In an economy where rich folks get the tax breaks and CEOs gut retirement funds, the chances of getting ahead by honest work must seem slimmer and slimmer.

At 4:33 PM, Blogger Terry McLaughlin said...

Great quote at the beginning of your post, Trish. And great post, too!

I think too many parents are working too hard to give their children the things everyone else's chidren have, and then all that time-consuming work makes it difficult for them to take the time to help their children learn to earn those things for themselves.

Maybe we need to hear about the value of hard work in our lives, over and over again, to internalize it. We need to hear more quotes like Edison's and more mini-lectures like yours!

At 8:57 PM, Blogger bridget said...

Trish, I was going to say how I think parents are often the ones who have taught their kids to expect everything for nothing...but Terry beat me to it!

I saw a very chubby child of about eight in the market the other day, bullying his mother about candy. She told him she wouldn't buy him one type and then cowered while he took out his wrath on her. Something inside me snapped and I snarled at the kid, "Hey buddy, you're not getting anything at all if you talk to your mother like that." The mom looked at me with a wild expression in her eyes, stood up straight and said "Yeah! She's right!" The kid was absolutely floored. He stared at me in horror--that strange alien being, often rumored but never seen in his life--"She Who Can Say No and Means It".

At 12:07 PM, Blogger Trish Milburn said...

Bridget, that type of activity just floors me too. There seems to be an entire generation of kids who have no "healthy fear" of their parents or punishment. They know they can get whatever they want if they pitch a big enough fit. The parents don't seem to realize that rewarding bad behavior is exactly the wrong thing to do.

At 7:36 PM, Anonymous Marty said...

Great post. I work with college students and really, if I hear, "I pay x dollars to come here and I deserve..." one more time! You deserve the opportunity to work hard and earn your grades. You've bought the right to sit in my class, but not to pass it. I blame the media for a lot of this. They see lifestyle and don't realize what it takes to get there. As an educator, I'm partly now a parent, trying to get them to see the light.

At 12:00 PM, Blogger dee said...

Totally beautiful post!
I'm almost 34, and I have seen this so often as well. I look at my oldest daughter, almost 14, and think "You are NOT going to be one of these punks!" She had the idea that she deserved a cell phone, and an ipod, and a... well, you get the picture. She rationalized that since all of her friends had one, it was normal. Not in this house, thankyouverymuch!
I think a lot of it is parents that work hard to be able to give their kids everything, but forget one of the most inportant things is TIME. If you spend all of your time working to give your kids that ipod, you teach them that them having the ipod is important to you. How else are they supposed to react when out on their own? The need for 'things' starts at home, when TIME is secondary to STUFF.
Just mho. Sorry for the rant.


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