The Relation Between Work Ethic and Culture


Courtesy of Fine Art America

By Anthony Dryden

This is an independently submitted op-ed for our Quill section. Views and statements made in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinions of  The Tower.

Many of us in our lives have heard with disdain from others how the younger generations are lazy and how art and culture have been slowly degrading. Maybe some of you agree with this assessment, maybe the majority of you don’t. I can only say for myself personally that I have always been more disposed to give credence to the testimony of the older generations. It is with this mindset that I present the following. 

I recently read Wendell Berry’s new book How it Went. When I was reading the section titled The Art of Loading Brush, I came across a piece of dialogue that truly rang home. Berry’s central character, Andy Catlett (who describes himself as living half in and half out of the new industrial age brought about by the Second World War) tells a young music major, Austin Page, “No high culture without low culture” (Berry 155). How did Andy, now an old man, look out onto the land and fences (put together with so much care) now falling apart? Against his better judgment hires a man named Shad Harbison to take on the job. He tells him and his crew exactly how he wishes the job to be done, and comes back to find it done, but done poorly and not at all as he had asked. It is in bringing on Austin to help clean up the mess left by Shad and his crew that Andy utters those words.

I believe Andy’s words to be true. Many Americans have lost their work ethic or their taste for work at all. This has been happening for some time. A 2011 article in Forbes speaks how, “Technological advances that make life faster, more fun, more entertaining, and easier to navigate are also consuming our time and energy while eliminating avenues for learning vital concepts about work.” The old ways of doing things have been replaced by quicker and easier “more efficient” ways which can be found by the click of a button, where one would have to learn from family or friends. The article also claims that over emphasizing the self in parting has caused a “entitled, disengaged, unmotivated, and disloyal” workforce.

In the study, Forbes reports how in the previous 3 older generations (Gen X, Baby Boomers, and the Silent Generation) “Work ethic was mentioned as a distinctive characteristic by at least 10 percent” while “It did not make the list for Millennials.” Instead of priding themselves on their work ethic, the younger generations valued, “music/pop culture, liberal/tolerant beliefs, greater intelligence, and clothes.”over work ethic.

What does this all have to do with culture? I posit that work ethic and culture are quite connected, and that the decline of work ethic is one of the factors in a declining culture. 

Writer Andrew Klavan speaks on two kinds of cultural rebellion. One against the earthly kings and one against the King of Heaven and Earth. Now the culture of the past has not always lived up to the high ideals it set for itself, that is fair to say, and the culture of today has rebelled against it as a result. However Klavan believes as do I, that this rebellion has gone too far and is now rebelling against the King of Heaven and Earth, that is God. We go from music like I Get A Kick Out of You, with lyrics about not getting a “kick” out of alcohol, perfume, planes (this being 1934 and planes being relatively new), but enjoying human connection. From this we go to songs like Rockstar, and WAP where fun and pleasure replace this. Human beings are made for more.

Now these people are extremely talented (Nickelback, Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion) and have so much talent to offer. However I feel as if they could have come up with songs with deeper meanings than these. The relationship between the average Joe and celebrities isn’t a straight line. It is common knowledge that the average American is influenced by the antics of the celebrity class,on the other hand it is unfair to say that celebrities are not influenced by the rest of us as well. After all, many celebrities work their way upward. Despite this the loss of work ethic in both classes has led to people doing things to the bare minimum. With us everyday men and women it could be reflected in our work. For the celebrities this loss of work ethic is seen in their films, art, and music (high culture as Berry puts it). A society that does not value work ethic will not create great works, because great works take skill, thought, and dedication. We have the skill and talent to create great works, all we need now, is resolve and grit. 

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