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It’s good that we don’t work like our Grandparents
BQE Foundational Works: Laziness Does Not Exist (part II)
This post is part of “Foundational BQE works,” an occasional series of reactions to what I’ve dubbed canon works for anyone developing their “Big Quit Energy”—trying to beat workaholism, set boundaries, fight back against workhumpers, or simply seeking better attitudes on work.
For the most part, it’s the natural order of things that we glorify and honor our grandparents. We tend to see them as grittier, with sturdier character than us, the result of having faced dire circumstances that forged them into the collectively “greatest” generation.
I reflected before on how we’re unfair to ourselves when we erase our predecessors’ failures from memory. In one of the more poignant moments of Laziness Does Not Exist, Dr. Devon Price talks about his own family to bring up another type of erasure: that of their suffering and the horrible consequences of their grit.
The Laziness Lie romanticizes stories[…]of hardworking men toiling away despite all the difficulties they’ve faced. But I saw firsthand what my dad’s life was like, and my grandfather’s: often desperate, lonesome, and filled with pain. Hard work didn’t buy either of them safety the way they dreamed it would. Both men were in horrible health all their life, and both died in their 50s.
While blasphemous to say, I’m certain that if our grandparents had the cushy options many of us have today, they’d choose them over grunt work and early death. Yet we insist on comparing our circumstances to theirs.
A dear friend sent me a most beautiful, funny passage discussing his own grandpops:
“When my grandfather was 19 he was shipped out to fight in the Pacific war. He came back at 21, quickly married, and worked the rest of his life in a factory at [a defense contractor]. Today, I plugged in my 'mouse jiggler' to make it look like I was online, and then went for a walk with [my daughter] to contemplate the best approach to write a short story that makes fun of [a famous sports pundit]... which of us is the better man? That's right. My grandfather, lol.”
I submit to you, dear reader, that both my friend and his pop-pops are great men. One could argue the latter slaved and numbed his mind (making tools of war, mind you) so that his descendants could be more introspective and more involved family members (as my friend is) than he had the chance to be.
We talk about wanting our kids to have it better than us, usually meaning the chance for more material abundance. There’s something to be said (especially now that we’re passing the zenith of said abundance) for wanting them to have it emotionally better than us: the chance for healthier choices and perspectives. For example, being free of the idea that they must experience struggle, suffering, and violence to be as virtuous as their grandparents.
In that sense, the accusations of weirdness and “softness” that get lobbed at Gen Z make me overall optimistic about that generation.
Shame around enjoying improved circumstances that your ancestors made possible is akin to shame around taking a lazy Sunday you made possible by getting all your chores done on Saturday. Both states of being answer the needs of their time. Both are worth celebrating. Neither is worth idealizing.
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