Growing up in the western Pennsylvania area, home to many small river towns, to cities like Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Wheeling, Erie, one is weaned on the dignity of work, on the expectation of work, on the idea that expecting to be supported by others —the so called welfare mentality — is not even an option. At least it was so during the ‘60s and ‘70s. It gave a sense of truth to the national holiday of Labor Day.
Maybe that hard laboring image is one reason there are so many Pittsburgh Steelers fans all around the country, including many in Clovis. Naaah … if that were the case, there’d be a lot of Cleveland fans, too, and that would just be weird.
Such an attitude, such a mindset, was not confined to the steel belt, by any means. In the area where we now live, I’m sure it was the dignity of ranching, farming, railroading; in the northwest, people doubtless celebrated the laboring heritage of logging and coastal trade.
Somewhere along the way, something must have happened; something must have gone sour. Maybe it was the loss of hope that struck many areas in the 1980s — listen to the words and thoughts of Bruce Springsteen in “My Hometown”: The foreman said these jobs are goin’ south and they ain’t comin’ back — to your hometown, to your hometown.
Maybe it was the ease with which handouts were made available to those who are willing to live at a level of minimal comfort, without any real incentive to move forward. When a person can make a better income by living on assistance than by working certain jobs, what happens to the dignity of work? Even though cries to raise the minimum wage are always met with complaints, there is some grounds to the idea of why it might work well.
Maybe it’s simply the culture of entitlement that seems to pervade our time. Certainly the belief has grown, perhaps worse in the past 30 years or so, that one is entitled to certain blessings and privileges without having to work for it.
The greatness that is our country did not emerge from a culture of mediocrity or of entitlement. The tendency to not look critically at oneself, to not be willing to improve or change, is destructive of the fiber of our country. The system that expects sacrifice on the part of others, without any sacrifice on the part of their own, is scarcely in a position to command respect.
Labor Day is, in its meaning, far more than simply an extra day off. Without the sense of respect for work that gives it meaning, it stands in danger of becoming a hollow shell.
Clyde Davis is a Presbyterian pastor and teacher at Clovis Christian High School. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org