We face a problem in America that is slowly but surely eroding our national character. This problem is eating away at a core characteristic that has always set America apart from the rest of the world. That core characteristic is our national work ethic. America got to be the strong and prosperous country it is in large part because Americans had a positive attitude toward work; they were willing to work hard, work smart, and when necessary work long to improve the quality of their lives. Americans of old expected no handouts and no favors from anyone. All they wanted was a chance—a chance to apply the sweat of their brows, the skills of their hands, and the knowledge in their minds to the challenge of building better lives, better communities, and a better country. I have a name for these hearty souls. I call them PHDs, a title that refers not to people with doctorate degrees but to people who are poor, hungry, and driven.
Americans of old viewed work as something inherently good, a fountain from which flowed individual dignity, human worth, and the opportunity to build better lives. I am old enough to remember when doing a job well was how people earned both self-respect and the respect of their neighbors, colleagues, and friends. When the American work ethic was more in evidence, America thrived as a nation. As result of our national work ethic, America once out produced all comers in the arena of international commerce. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case. Don’t get me wrong, America is still one of the top producers on the global stage, but it is no longer THE top producer. Yes, other industrialized nations, particularly in Asia, have learned how to be more productive and competitive. While Japan, Korea, and China have been improving their productivity and competitiveness, we have been going the other way. America’s once powerful, vibrant work ethic is slowly but surely being eroded by a creeping sense of entitlement. As a result, our whole attitude toward work is changing.
Americans once viewed advances in technology as tools for helping them do more work and do it better. For example, John Deere’s steel-bladed plow allowed farmers to till more acres and plant more crops, not do less work. We now tend to view technology as a way to decrease the amount of work we have to do, as something to give us more time for idleness and play. The changing attitude toward work can be seen in a statement that has become mantra among young adults in America: “Work smart, not hard.” Some colleges and universities have even adopted this misleading statement as the marketing slogan for their recruiting campaigns. The obvious message here is if you don’t want to work, get a college degree. Could an institution of higher education adopt a more irresponsible, potentially destructive recruiting slogan?
Work smart not hard is one of the ten biggest lies. I have an Associate Degree, Bachelors Degree, Four Masters Degrees, and a Doctorate degree and whatever success I have enjoyed in life can be attributed as much to hard work as to higher education. The degrees got my foot in the door, but it was working hard AND smart that propelled me up the career ladder. The world is full of highly educated failures whose careers never went anywhere because they viewed work with a jaundiced eye and viewed education as a way to escape it. A more appropriate recruiting slogan for colleges and universities would be: We will equip you to work hard, work smart, and work long to build a better lives, better communities, and a better nation.
The traditional work ethic helped America expand from sea to sea, reach the peaks of economic prosperity, and become the world’s strongest superpower. The growing entitlement mentality—the opposite of a positive work ethic—is pulling America down from the peak of prosperity and transforming us into a debtor nation whose people no longer have the drive to be great. We are slowly becoming a nation of people who want to be given what can only be earned, who want someone else to do the hard work required for success and prosperity. In other words, the traditional American work ethic is being replacing by an insidious and destructive entitlement mentality. As goes the work ethic, so goes human worth and dignity. Lose these things and we lose America.