Several years ago, the school where I work instituted an ‘advisement’ period twice a week, in which teachers could conference individually with students about their progress in school, distribute information from the counselors, and so on. I started with a group of freshmen, about half of whom were failing at least one class (many of them multiple classes) by the end of first quarter. When I asked each of them why they were failing a class, I was astonished by how many of them answered, “I don’t like it.” It wasn’t that they found the class too difficult or that they were scared to ask the teacher for help. They simply didn’t like the class, and therefore they didn’t do any of the work. Their decision-making was based entirely on whether something gratified them in the moment. If it didn’t, then it was not worth their time or effort, regardless of the consequences. In fact, it took quite a bit of persuasion throughout the year to make some of them see that a reluctance to run a mile in P.E. was a pretty dumb reason not to graduate from high school.
As surprised as I was by my students’ perspective, it actually makes sense that they would function this way given our culture at large, which creates celebrities out of people with no discernible talent or virtue (often the exact opposite of that–we seem to reward the most debased and dysfunctional members of society with our attention); in which people applaud themselves for having found the easiest and shortest way to attaining something, regardless of the lack of ethics or the harm it’s done; in which we have so many options for gratification that experiences have become disposable. Hard work is for chumps.
Even those of us who recognize how problematic that worldview is struggle. Some of the things I love most and recognize as the most meaningful are the hardest for me to sit down and actually do on a regular basis. They are not instant gratification pursuits. They are hard, and I have to fight myself constantly to engage in them instead of checking my e-mail one more time or going on Facebook or watching TV or rooting around in my refrigerator for something to snack on even though I’m not hungry. But there is something good about having some drudgery, or at least drudgery with a purpose. There is something good about the Me being humbled by the work of something that’s bigger and more important, that takes time and discipline and thus quiets the Me’s demands. I resist it, but I know I need it. Which is why I’m thankful for reminders like this: