I’ve said for years that I’m not still not sure what I want to be when I grow up. When I was a teenager, my Grandmother asked me the question and I answered, “I want to be a bum.” As I contemplate that, now years older and having attained the bare minimum of wisdom that comes with my advancing age, I’m astounded at the arrogance of youth. What I thought I said was that I wanted to have an easy life. What she heard was that I had no work ethic and would be happy to live on handouts and welfare.
My grandparents had struggled to make ends meet in a dying town in southern Kansas at the end of the dust bowl days, until they decided to try their luck in California. Packing up their three kids, my mom and her brother and sister, they made the trek out to San Diego and put down roots there, working hard to make a good life for their family. After that hardship and years of struggling to provide for a better way of life, I imagine that years later, it was a blow to hear one of their grandsons declare that all of it was less than nothing to him. When I really call my childhood to remembrance, I don’t recall my mom talking much about her roots, so I probably wasn’t aware of the slight to Grandma, but it might not have changed anything. I was young and no one could tell me anything.
But, my parents did a few things right (maybe even more than a few) and one of those things was to instill in each of their children the desire to work, to be productive. We all worked from an early age, not necessarily to get things, although that was part of the drive, but mostly to achieve the satisfaction of doing something constructive. Funny, I’ve always thought of myself as a bit lazy, but all my life from age 12 on, I’ve been working. It was nothing more than delivering papers at first, but this was in an age when most of the other kids were going to club meetings and watching Batman after school, or at least that’s how it seemed to me. From then on, whether part-time or full-time, I’ve been employed. From pharmacy delivery-boy, fire & safety installations and repairs, washing pots and pans, and making donuts, I worked. It was only after we had owned our music store for several years that I realized that there was not only the reward of the paycheck, the financial gain, but there was another reward for the work ethic.
Emotionally, we are fashioned to accomplish tasks and reach goals! We observe this all our lives, starting with the little physical things; rolling over, holding up our heads, crawling, walking, etc. The reward is a new-found freedom, but also the praise from the adults in our lives, urging us on to bigger and better tasks, swimming, riding bikes, reading, writing, sports, music, and on and on. The list is endless, but always, we are driven by the emotional need to achieve and also to be rewarded. While we say things like “virtue is its own reward” and in our heads we might believe it, in our hearts, we know that we need more. We all work better if we get an “atta boy!” or “atta girl!” The pats on the back don’t put food on the table, but they sure put a cache in the storehouse for a rainy day. The monetary reward is soon spent, it soon dwindles into an empty memory, but the praise of another stays with us, to be taken out, sometimes many years later, and to brighten a dark day in the light of the brilliant blaze with which encouragement and acclaim shine.
I’m aware that our society is rife with false praise. I see our children being given awards just for showing up, and every team, not just the victors, being given trophies and I realize that excellence is being cheapened. When the reward is the same for all, there is no longer any motivation to achieve and excel. But I also know that the more genuine praise is heaped on, the harder we work. I love it when a customer takes the time to email me with a word of thanks, or telephones just to say, “Good job!” It drives me to do even better, to raise the bar to greater heights, and that’s how I think it should be. So, don’t be afraid to offer praise where it’s due. Tell your waitress or waiter “thank you” and leave them a bigger tip if their service has exceeded your expectations. If your pastor, or teacher, or even the janitor has over-achieved in your book, tell them! They’ll appreciate the pat on the back and you’ll reap the future benefit even more.
Do I think that we should only labor for the praise of others? No, it’s a fringe benefit, secondary to actually accomplishing what we set out to do. In addition, if we labor as if the work is for our Maker, we’ll toil on without any praise at all. But, the aptly spoken word, offered at the proper time, will give encouragement and provide fuel in the tank for future accomplishments. As our God encourages, why wouldn’t we?
And the bum thing? I’m having too much fun now, so it’s not going to happen. I think maybe even Grandma would be pleased…
“Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”
“A little praise is not only merest justice, but it is beyond the purse of no one.”
(Emily Post, American authority on social behavior)