Safety Notice: There Is An Elephant In The Workroom
What is this obsession we have with hard work?
Why do we place so much value on it, almost above all else? (We must work hard BEFORE we sleep, take a lunch break, or schedule time with the family.)
I do not denounce the value of dedication, commitment, and effort. However, there is a huge elephant in the workroom that we are all ignoring.
I share this today because I found out that this elephant is getting ready to trample over my kids.
This was a fable given to my third-grade son, for which he was supposed to find the main idea:
"Once there was a happy grasshopper. All summer long he hopped and leaped in the grass and lay in the warm sun. He was happy to be alive and spent every day doing all of the things he wanted to do. He ate the green grass and the leaves of the bushes. He sang his grasshopper songs and played in the summer rain. He slept under the rosses [sic] and calmly watched all the other insects. Living nearby was an ant. The ant was happy too, but she knew that summer would not last. The ant knew that soon the warm sun would be gone and winter would come. She dragged dead bugs into her nest. She stored little seeds to eat. She dug her home deep into the earth so she would not be cold later. She worked very hard all summer. She did not have time to sing and play.
The warm days of summer passed quickly. Soon all of the plants were dead and brown. All of the leaves had fallen to the ground. The sun was hidden behind clouds and the air was cold. The grasshopper was very hungry. He looked everywhere for something to eat, but couldn't find anything.
Then he saw the ant. 'Please, Ant, will you give me something to eat?'
'Why should I give you something to eat? What have you been doing all summer while I worked to get ready for the cold?'
'I did not have time to work,' said the grasshopper. 'I sang songs, I hopped and leaped, and sat in the sun.'
'Grasshopper, you played and never worked. I worked and never played. Why should I help you out when you did not help yourself?'
The grasshopper hopped slowly away and the ant went into her warm nest to nibble some seeds. 'Foolish grasshopper,' she said. 'Now he will have to pay for the time he waste. [sic] The winter will not be kind to the lazy one.' "
When asked to write a fable of his own right after this, here is what he wrote:
"Once there was a little bee who did not do work. He played insted. he did not want to work. For the other bees were hard at work because they did not have time to play. It soon became winter and the other bees would not share food with him. The spring came and the little bee worked as hard as a little bee could. Next winter came and the little bee got all the pollen he could get.
A lot of times we do not want to work but we have to because it really pays of [off] after you get it done."
As a productive, hard-working woman, part of me stands proud with his writing. Yes, I think - Yes! He is learning that work is important, that even if we don't want to, sometimes we must just do what needs to be done. (And that part of me really hopes this translates into him keeping his room clean.)
Every other part of me cringes and cries.
As a mother who wants to see her kids value happiness, stopping to smell the flowers, and kindness, this entire lesson feels like a failure.
The fable from which they were supposed to learn is especially disconcerting.
"She did not have time to sing and play.", "Grasshopper, you played and never worked. I worked and never played".
Hard work equals success and survival. Play equals frivolity and starvation. Isn't that the message that is being passed along?
In addition, the fable ends with the ant not giving the grasshopper any food.
"...I worked and never played. Why should I help you out when you did not help yourself?", "Foolish grasshopper,' she said, 'Now he will have to pay for the time he waste. [sic] The winter will not be kind to the lazy one."
What are the messages being taught here? Is it, perhaps, that we should not help others who did not work hard to help themselves? It is that play and song are apparently not only detrimental to our survival, but acts that are to be punished?
My son definitely picked up on at least one of those. If you will note, his own fable includes absolutely no generosity either.
Yes, I want my kids to take responsibility for themselves. But not at the cost of being kind to others.
Yes, I want my kids to work hard. But not at the cost of their happiness.
Yes, I want my kids to be productive members of society. But not at the cost of their song.
No wonder we all find it hard to breathe easy. We are taught so early on that flowing breath - which we find, for example, through song and play - is luxurious, lazy, and only to be done if all of the work is done. (Note: The work is NEVER done.)
I believe that we will only find our peace when we determine that the experience of Breath is not a luxury. Neither is happiness, nor time for song.
Hard work, effort, dedication, and the strength to continue alongside discomfort is the yang of existence. Breath, happiness, and the delicate vibrations of the songs we share are the yin. We need both in order to feel complete, fulfilled.
I'll talk with my son about the assignment to gather his thoughts. And I pass this along to you in order to open up conversation.
What do you think? Am I making too much of this assignment? Do you feel we place too much importance on hard work - or not enough?
I look forward to continuing this conversation with you. Meanwhile, I'll be keeping an eye on that elephant.