My mother was checking out at the supermarket recently and had an encounter with a young man bagging groceries that she found troubling and so do I.
As he was going about the business of his job, my mother cheerfully asked him how he was doing to which he replied, “not so great.” “What’s wrong” mom asked with a very polite and slightly maternal level of concern for a young person in his early twenties who seemed to be having a rough day. His answer took my mother by surprise. He told her that, not only did he not like his job, he did not like the idea of working at all. Intrigued, my mother asked him to explain what he meant, so he went on to a mini-diatribe about how it is wrong that people must work in order to get by.
This guy truly believed that in America, the land of plenty, we should not all be required to hold jobs and earn our livelihoods and that being compelled to work in order to provide for our needs and wants was somehow wrong.
With the frozen foods melting, I suspect my mother had neither the time nor the inclination to hear our unmotivated friend explain how the country was going to pay for more than 300 million Americans living a life of leisure. I don’t suppose he had thought out that part of his grand plan.
We know from history, of course, that work and lots of it is what made this country a land of prosperity, creating a remarkable standard of living that is the envy of so many other countries on the planet. That is not to say that there are not many other marvelous places to live, there surely are, but none quite like this. From the first settlers to those who come to our shores today, America has provided those who are willing to work and to sacrifice the chance to make their lives into whatever they dare to dream they can be.
Of course, that was not always the case for all Americans as many have had to struggle mightily for equality, opportunity, and respect. That struggle is part of the American story and it continues. One of my favorite sayings; “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be fixed with what is right in America.”
I have had countless conversations with immigrants about this notion over the years (my family teases me all the time about my tendency to chat with random people one meets in a day). In fact, completely true story, I recently had a lovely conversation with a driver taking me to my business in Los Angeles. Tam is from Ethiopia and has been in the United States for twenty-six years having raised two daughters who recently graduated from college. Both made excellent grades and are doing quite well, but he spoke a lot about the frustration he often felt that his daughters didn’t really understand how very different their lives would have been had they been born and raised in Ethiopia instead of the U.S. Like most kids who grew up here, Tam lamented, they could be spoiled by all of the gadgets, games, and clothes that young people enjoy today. Having been raised in a third world nation with so few opportunities, Tam was deeply bothered at times by his two daughter’s lack of appreciation for what they had been given. Most of us with children have felt the same way on occasion, so he is by no means alone.
Time after time, those who came to this country after childhood have told me how grateful they are to live in a place where ideas and opportunities are plentiful and they commonly believe that many of us who were born here lose sight of how fortunate we really are.