Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Making of a Republican Part 4: The importance of work

I was raised by a single mother for most of my life.  I saw my own father now and then, but the real father figure in my life was my grandfather.  My grandfather was a kind of enigmatic character.  He was short but never had a Napoleon complex.  He taught me so many things, I cannot even count  them all, but one of them was about personal responsibility.  You don't make excuses.  You do everything in your power to do what you are supposed to do.  Show up on time.  Do the job you are assigned.  All honest work has value no matter how lowly or grubby it is.  These are the values my grandfather lived and taught me.  The picture is of me, my mother and my grandfather on my graduation from law school.

When I was young, surrounded as I was by Democrats, I was shocked to find out, in my teens, that my grandfather was a Republican.  He was from Nebraska. He grew up on a farm, worked his way through Springfield College in Massachusetts where they trained people to become Physical Education teachers, and got a job teaching Phys. Ed at USC, where he remained his entire life.

He took care of his family.  That's what you do.  If your daughter is having a hard time and not making it, well, she moves in with you and you find a way.  We lived with him off and on.  So did my aunts.  He took care of his grandchildren and his great grandchildren.  Its what you do.

So I learned from grandfather about being responsible for your own life and decisions.  I learned that dealing with the hand that fate dealt you was the grown up way instead of sitting around and bemoaning all the barriers and problems and unfair breaks and problems.  You face them.  You deal with them.  You do your best.

What I found in life was that doing things for yourself is the best way.  To start out with, there are certain things that only you can do for yourself, like breathe and go to the bathroom.  Yes you can get assistance with those functions but really, not for long and its pretty awful.  It turns out that self esteem, is pretty much the same.  True self esteem comes from taking care of yourself, achieving your goals and making a contribution.  No amount of compliments from well meaning fools can give you real regard for yourself.  Climbing Mt. Whitney, running a marathon, in my case, walking up the 4 flights of stairs in the parking structure where I park near the Apple store.  These are the things that give you a sense of well being and accomplishment.

I was a welfare worker for 6 years.  I have literally sat in the living rooms of hundreds, if not thousands, of poor people, listening to their stories and dutifully writing them down and giving them advice.  I think I may have genuinely helped a few.  You have to want to be helped.  One 18 year old mother of three scoffed at the idea that she might go back to school and make something of her life.  I told her that that is what my mother did.  My mom was a teacher after having two children before the age of 20.  I pointed out to my client that there are still community colleges and her own mom could babysit while she was in school.  Her response was "That's different.  You're white".  "And yet", I replied, "so far as I know, they let black people go to community college for the same price as white people".  The LACK of hope that I saw so many places really had no foundation.  This is a country where people who come here with literally only the clothes on their backs not only survive but prosper.  How sad to have thousands of voices telling you that you cannot succeed or do well for yourself because of your skin color.  Sadly, most of those voices are coming from people who say they care about black people and other minorities.

I know too many people of all races who have pulled themselves up with their own energy, determination and ambition to fall for that pessimism.   Working in the welfare department, I was subjected to an enormous dose of liberal orthodoxy.  I was encouraged to tell one of my clients, a young woman who WAS determined to make something of her life, to quit her job as a hotel maid because it was a dead end job.  Nonsense.  She was going to school at night to become a Registered Nurse.  She had a plan and I encouraged her to stick with it.

That was my first experience with liberal snobbishness.  Many of the liberals who worked with me looked down their noses at people who worked with their hands or performed services for other people.  They would never have agreed with my grandfather that any honest work has dignity.  But how can we expect people to succeed and have happy and prosperous lives if we tell them that the jobs that they can actually get, like cleaning someone's house, cutting the grass in someone's yard, picking fruit, is beneath their dignity.  Nonsense.  Every job you have contributes to your experience.  Taking care of yourself, knowing that you did something productive to put food on your table and shelter over your head, has a great value.  And no job is truly a dead end job because it gives you experience to do something else.

As I moved through adult life I found that my attitude toward work was regarded as stupid and neanderthal by the enlightened liberals.  They thought everybody should be an accountant a poet or an artist.  Maybe a doctor or dentist was okay too.  They had no respect even for plumbers and electricians.  They considered them declasse.

One thing I found out about Republicans, on the other hand, was that they, on average, had a much greater respect for work of any kind.  I suppose since so many of them do run businesses they understand that the guy who empties the trash at night when everyone else is gone from the office, and the woman who polishes the floor, is just as important in his or her own way as the lawyer who walks out the door to the courthouse.  All of us contribute to the wellbeing of our community by the work that we do and all of it is important.

That attitude, I was to find later in life, definitely made me a Republican.

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