Mike Varney

Some time ago I overheard a conversation between a father and his son, who I estimated to be somewhere in the age of a high-school student. The conversation was about the value of a work ethic. In the conversation the father made it clear that as an adult the young man would be the captain of his own destiny. The father’s message was essentially a reminder that his son would get out of life what he put into it. I really smiled when I heard the dad say, “Son, when you are a man, it will be time for you to paddle your own canoe.” I don’t like to eavesdrop, but couldn’t resist in this case. Kudos to you, dad!

Hearing the father-son conversation conjured up memories from my own childhood. We were a large family. There was not a lot of money for the extras in life. When I needed a new football helmet to play the game with my friends, I had to put two coats of paint on a fence to earn the money. My brother sold fruit from the apple and pear trees in our back yard for his money. My sisters were babysitters. We all learned the difference between “earn” and “deserve” at a very early age. Today I sense the lines between “earn” and “deserve” are becoming somewhat blurry. Dictionary definitions of the two words are helpful. 

• Earn: ”obtain (money) in return for labor or services”

• Deserve: “to be entitled to, as a result of past actions; to be worthy to have”

I must admit that it really rankles me when I hear people demanding things in life that they should be earning. “Free stuff” isn’t really free. Many times the “free stuff” some claim they “deserve” is paid for by someone else. We’ve got to get rid of that kind of thinking.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “There has never been but one question in all civilization—how to keep a few men from saying to many men: You work and earn bread and we will eat it.”

Actress Bette Davis is also quoted as saying, “It has been my experience that one cannot, in any shape or form, depend on human relations for lasting reward. It is only work that truly satisfies.”

I hear from time to time that the Millennial generation often embraces an “entitlement mentality”—an expectation that they “deserve” a job, deserve a big paycheck, deserve a lot of time off, deserve the right to work by their own rules, etc. While I have to admit that my personal experiences with Millennials have been exactly the opposite, I do hear comments about their entitlement mentality enough that to believe my own experiences may be the exception. How did this kind of thinking take root?

A quick look at recent world affairs really drives home the point about personal initiative and hard work. Greece recently experienced riots and massive social unrest because their bankrupt country dared to expect workers to do more and expect less from government largesse. A headline in the Arizona Daily Star on July 13 said, “In Venezuela, standing in line is new normal.” The “lines” referred to are bread lines. Wasn’t Venezuela the country that dictator Hugo Chavez was going to transform into a state of nirvana by nationalizing free enterprise so he could hand out more free stuff to its citizens?

In a message from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on June 14, the head of the organization’s government affairs department, Bruce Josten, wrote, “Entitlement reform is not optional, and it needn’t be feared by voters. Delay, however, could be catastrophic. If we wait until a crisis is upon us, it will no longer be possible to design reforms with gradual adjustments; the cuts would be blunt and disruptive. Entitlement reform is an absolute necessity, as will soon become evident to everyone, one way or another.”

The father I overheard nailed it. To move forward (and upward) in life, nothing beats a great work ethic. As individuals and as a country, we need to promote the value of paddling our own canoes.