When was the last time you planted a rice paddy? Planting a rice paddy requires stoop labor, which the dictionary defines as the "hard labor done or required to plant, cultivate and harvest a crop." Of course, most of the stoop labor of the past has been automated out of our lives, but I want to make a plea that we hang on and pass on the stoop labor that remains, even if it's simply washing the dishes.
Stoop labor grounds a person. Pun intended. It guards against entitlement, self-centeredness, laziness and elitism. All my children would disagree, but the beneficial effects of stoop labor are impressive.
Ironically, it's the stoop labor we do in our everyday lives that often helps us overcome some of our biggest challenges. Here are a few of the benefits I've seen:
Connection: It's been my privilege to work alongside each of our six children scrubbing pots and pans and mopping the floor. You can't automate the kind of connection and talk time that has come from all of that kitchen post stoop labor over the years.
Confidence: The other day, my son and I made major repairs on a toilet. We can both recite the internal anatomy of a toilet, something neither of us aspired to learn. We stooped for a couple of hours together, interspersed with trips to the hardware store. When we finally pulled the lever and saw the basin fill up, it was musical. I earned street cred with my son, and we both gained a bit of confidence in our glorious triumph.
Gratitude: After my first year of graduate school, I didn't have enough money to pay tuition. A good friend of mine invited me to work in the grape vineyards near Bakersfield, Calif. The stoop labor allowed me to stay in school, and as I worked side-by-side with migrant workers, I learned just how hard they work and how fortunate I was to get an education.
Concentration. Children gain confidence through concentrated effort. A child who cannot sustain focus can seldom accomplish meaningful goals. My wife and I are do-it-yourselfers in the yard. We grew up pulling weeds and have generously handed down this tradition to our sons and daughters. Some kids may be natural weed-pullers. That gene skipped a generation in our family. With the spring thaw each year, our children begin issuing advance warnings, alerting us to the fact that they will not be weeding that year. I smile back and tell them the Clark Compound is not a free country. If my kids can weed for a couple of hours straight, I know they have the capacity to do their homework, learn an instrument, help a neighbor and stay focused at choir or basketball practice.
Humility: Stoop labor has a magical way of removing the feeling that the self is the center of life. There's an ennobling thing that happens when we engage in stoop labor — we retain more mental, emotional and physical agility. This has come in handy for those who have suffered during the recession. The recession has thrown many out of work and held out the promise that the uprooted will be able to find another job at or near the same level of responsibility and income.
The devastating news is that we can no longer make that assumption. All around us, we see cases in which people who have been thrown out of work resort to working in jobs that pay much less than what they were previously earning. The recession has done great violence to the labor market and job creation, and if our so-called jobless recovery continues for some time, the downward pressure on labor will continue. The longer it lasts, the more dislocation and the more skills obsolescence will occur, rendering more people unprepared to step back into previous roles.
Some people can't face this, and it breaks them. Others, including many who are no strangers to stoop labor, are more willing to bend and do what they can, like a friend of mine who is stocking shelves at Walmart and trying to feed a family. Emotionally, they are set back but not broken. Stoop labor has blessed their lives.
Timothy R. Clark is the founder of TRClark LLC, a management consulting and leadership development organization. His newest book, "The Employee Engagement Mindset," has just been released from McGraw-Hill. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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