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People in general, and children in particular, are a lot like dogs. A dog is a wonderful thing, playful, loving, loyal, charming, and usually well behaved. Sometimes, however, when you put more than one dog together in a situation, they revert to behavior which reflects all their worse innate personality traits. For some reason, the pack mentality can bring out the worst in a creature and if you watch closely, your lovely doggie may suddenly start behaving like the worst hound in the pack for reasons that appear inexplicable.
This can also be true about kids and teenagers. One on one they can be great but occasionally, when they do anything together, they can start behaving in ways that seems to rapidly sink to the lowest common denominator. There is probably some smart anthropologist or behavioral psychologist who could offer all sorts of fascinating explanations for this phenomenon, but I don't care. I just really don't like it. My personal philosophy is that we all should strive to rise above the pack mentality and develop characters that remain intact no matter what the crazy hounds are up to. Like all philosophies, it can sometimes suddenly go from lofty ideal to wishful thinking in the beat of a heart.
I experienced just such a fall recently when my son was hired by a neighbor to clean up her yard. This involved the usually activities; raking, cutting down vegetation, putting stuff in bags, picking up the yard, and generally getting ready for winter. Normally, my boy is a pretty good worker on his own and even better when I am supervising. On this occasion, I was not feeling well and he enlisted a friend to assist him in what amounted to a rather big job. I didn't object – he helps his friends and they help him... sort of. After about an hour or so I decided to go check on their progress. This is when everything went seriously south.
I found them working, if you can call it that. In my mind, working involves moving a little faster than the speed of snail and putting forth some kind of discernible effort. I asked them to report on their progress. They seemed to think that they had done all sorts of work but I could detect no significant improvement in the yard. I mentioned this and they launched into a litany of activities in which they had been engaged. I observed that it didn't amount to much since it appeared that they had only half done any of it. They protested. I told them that as far as I could see, if there had been a rug out there they would have just swept everything under it and called it good. I told them that raking leaves usually meant all the leaves, not just some of them and cutting down brush meant all the brush, not just the stuff that was easy to get to. They were insulted. They were indignant. They might not have been able to do anything at a faster pace than molasses flowing up hill on a hot day, but they could sure make up excuses faster than the speed of light. I was not moved.
“Look,” I said. “Whatever you guys think you are doing here it in no way resembles actual working. Actually working looks a great deal different than what you two are doing, which more closely resembles loitering.”
I reminded my son that since he had been taught what hard work was and had even done it he had no excuse for trying to pass off his current activities as anything remotely like work, and despite his numerous and imaginative excuses his position was indefensible and he knew it. He hates it when I lecture like this and once asked me why I couldn't just yell like a 'regular' mother. I informed him that he had known for a long time that I wasn't likely to do anything in a 'regular' manner so if he wanted a 'regular' mother he should start advertising for one immediately. He didn't like that either.
I then proceeded to take over the tactical end of the job, giving them a logical way to proceed and the most efficient way to tackle it, along with a projected time frame for each aspect. While I was supervising I came to see something quite clearly. My son's little friend had no idea whatsoever how to work and no sense whatsoever of what work even was. He was utterly clueless and completely useless. A nearsighted penguin with a pronounced limp would have been more helpful. I think his idea of hard work was probably chewing his food.
In the end the job got done because I supervised and my son stepped up to the plate finally. I just let his friend put stuff in lawn bags, which he did at an agonizingly slow pace while we did the real work. I told my son later that allowing himself to become a lazy, useless lump just because his friend was one was not a good course of action. He didn't like it, but he knew I was right.
Am I getting old or is this generation beyond lazy? Can laziness be passed on to those around you like the common cold? Did our parents think we were lazy? Were we lazy? I don't recall being lazy or even accused of it but maybe we were. What would a behavioral anthropologist say? Do I care? No. I just want the job done.
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