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Hard Work Nation

Nothing engages our sense of national pride like “Hard Work.”  The two words sum up just about everything great about America: rugged individualism, freedom to excel, the pursuit of happiness, capitalistic opportunity, entrepreneurial resiliency.

Did I miss anything?

I like my “Hard Work” dripping raw with a side of “Go-get-‘em!” and a tall frothy glass of “can-do.”
Fills me right up.

Start talking about Hard Work and we can’t wait to tell you how we got started. That job we got so we could gas up, or pay tuition or rent or buy ramen noodles.  We’ll go on and on about it.  Let us compare our grinds so that we might determine whose nose was closer to that stone.

And how thoroughly we do honor that effort.

What lesson could possibly be more important than: The Value of Hard Work. Hell, it’s even in the Bible.  Actually, I think it makes up 75% of the American Version.

And so we teach our young people, as often as we can, the Value of Hard Work. We describe what it should look like by sharing our own first experiences:

Hot, cold, sun-burned, wind-blown, or frost-bit. We learned consistency and perseverance. We followed direction. We got up, got dirty, and got the job done.  Day after day. How those formative experiences did shape us.  The late nights cleaning tables or pushing a broom. The smell of the milk house in the morning, or hot metal, oil, and diesel in the garage at mid-day.  The growl and buzz of a saw or the flap and swish of a brush. A little imagination brings us back to the feeling of tension in our fingers and forearms as we gripped the rungs, pushed the mowers, swung the hammers, stacked the cases.

The memories are not hard to access. Indeed they’re etched sharply onto our very soul.

No matter the job, the way we religiously praise those (mostly physical, often mindless) efforts is integrally woven into the stories we tell about work and how it shapes our character, how it continues to ripple through our communities, how the ethos reflects the strength of our nation.

Legend has it “Hard Work” is an investment that pays off in (we tell each other), if not increased riches, then surely enhanced chances–and at least an empowered character.

The Work–especially early on–was not joyful. But it is the pursuit of happiness, after all, that we honor most.

So we continue to add, story by story, to the mythos: the cultural certainty that “Hard Work” will always pay off–somehow, someway–eventually.

Until then, we compare callouses and contusions, grease stains and wrist sprains.

The evidence of our efforts is recorded in our muscle memory and marked with the scars we’ve scattered across our bodies

Hard work dues are paid for with the body.

But why?

What about the mind?

How common is it that we compare:

  • The first thing of value we created?
  • The first value-added problem we solved?
  • The first time we discovered an inefficiency,
  • or learned how to repair instead of replace?
  • The first time we wrote something that convinced someone to give us a better deal or a better job.
  • The first circuit we wired,
  • or program we wrote?
  • The first time we made Work more profitable?

The stories we tell about the value of Hard Work are rich in the traditions of physical toil. But the honor we bestow upon this work is outdated—an emotional remnant of the industrial age. A time long past, when a person COULD actually pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. A time when physical labor was more valuable than today.

Solving and explaining, inventing and persuading, on the other hand, is the kind of labor that has the most value NOW.  And it’s long past time we recognize that. If we are to move forward, it is time we tell and value new stories.

Hard Work 2.0.

Mind Work.

Focused, Undistracted Work.

Deep Work.

The mark of this kind of work isn’t left on the body in the form of scars and callouses, but on the brain in the form of myelin and neural connections—invisible, but powerful.

Economies will always need strong hands and those willing to lend them, but the most rewarding jobs of today are built with strong minds.  Minds that perceive and consider. That analyze and synthesis.

Lo, the age of knowledge work is upon us.

Lend a mind.

Learning Liberty

Liberty: freedom from captivity, confinement, or physical restraint:

In politics, it’s the social and political freedoms to which people are entitled. In theology, it’s freedom from the bondage of sin.

Want to increase your liberty?

Increase your learning.

Works every time. I know because whenever I’ve learned something new, like how to . . .

  • replace the heating element in my electric water heater,
  • code,
  • fix a leaky faucet,
  • remove malware,
  • winterize an outboard engine,
  • run a marathon,
  • field dress and butcher a deer,
  • fix a toilet,
  • care for a sick child,
  • sharpen a chainsaw blade,
  • wire an outlet,
  • get out of a time-share contract,
  • drive,
  • read,
  • write,

. . . I gained a little bit of power, a little bit of freedom–a little bit of liberty.

It doesn’t matter what the question is. Education is the answer.  I’m not sure I can think of a problem for which learning can’t help better our odds.

Learning reduces fear, helping us to be more present, effective, creative, and competent.

Learning inspires independence and action, confidence and gumption.

Now more than ever, education is the element transforming ideas and information into tangible, practical, profitable solutions.

Instead of being at the mercy of a plumber who may or may not show up this afternoon, education gives us the ability to make decisions and take action for ourselves—and get that toilet flushing again.

Education is also the element that inspires the plumber to master his craft and create surprising value—which makes him an indispensable, irreplaceable member of his community.

Change your perspective, what you know, what you do, and you can change your reality. Formal education is the foundation; it’s where our attitudes about learning begin–but lifelong informal education can transform our lives.

Educated people inspire learning in others. Educated people raise the bar; because there’s a steep price to pay for being the least educated person in your group.

Ignorance is costly, confining, and limiting. Learning, on the other hand, is liberating.

Today I choose

Today . . . I will not be angry.

On days like this, you don’t have to ask. You know. Everybody knows, has an opinion, an emotion: Hope, despair, fear, elation.  The euphoria of victory, the agony of defeat.

All that.

It’s everywhere.

We’re all searching. Finding our own way in the narrative of, “Our Life and Times.”


We are adapting.



It’s a very noisy process. With much rejoicing and gnashing of teeth.

The day after too. Tomorrow, you’ll still know. Next month probably. After that you may have to look up the date. Connect the dots. If this is you, in some future now (hello!) go ahead and do that. Context is good.  There are very few to connect. I promise.

But today, you know.  You know what I’m talking about. You FEEL what I’m talking about.  Me. Just one voice in the raging, swirling shit-storm of it all.

Saying . . .

Something else.

Can you hear me?

Because today I will tell you: I have decided.  I will not be angry.  Or fearful. I will not stand and “fight back” or acknowledge an “attack” on me:

On my values.

On my way.

On humanity.

On her.

On them.

On . . .

These are all real things, and if you are feeling them today and tomorrow and for years-it’s all right. I have done all that. Felt all that. Fought it all.

I live in Wisconsin. I’m a teacher here.  A public employee.  One of the “greedy few” attacked and discouraged and disparaged and marginalized and blamed.

And for years, I fought back.

And you can too.

There is nothing wrong with:

Standing Up,

Fighting Back,

Making Your Case,

and experiencing all the delicious emotions that come with that.

It is indeed a glorious thing to be called into battle. To fight and bleed for a cause you value beyond measure.  Something important and bigger than yourself.  It is noble and worthy and good.

A purpose.

Until it isn’t anymore.

And today I decided:

I will not be angry.

Or hurt.

Or fearful.

I will, in fact, be nothing. Do nothing.

I will watch . . . with much interest, I assure you—until I don’t.

Because I realized something today.

I am no longer in the game.

I’ve been benched.

With practically every seat in every branch of state government, the republicans own Wisconsin (bought and paid for by various interests with deep pockets by the way).  And for many years their anger, and blame, and every reason for upset was fueled by the Black Man in Washington.

But now the Black Man’s time is up.  So they cannot be angry with him anymore.

And for many years the republicans owned most of the seats of the both houses of congress in Washington DC. And they too directed their anger and blame for their troubles at the Black Man.

And even though they knew his time was up, still they were certain that when he was gone, they could direct their anger and blame at the White Woman.

But now she’s gone too.

The Black Man and the White Woman gave them an excuse. And, you see, the two of them kept me in the game. They weren’t much.   But they were all I had

And now,


The Black Man’s days are numbered.

The White Woman, will not be coming after all.

And so I understand (finally perhaps) that I’ve been benched.

Without those players, I’m no longer in the game. There is no one left.

The positions have been filled.

And I can, if I choose, watch from the bench, or shower up and join the fans in the stadium (all—in their own right–rooting or angry about some circumstance of the game themselves: a player, a call, a bad, or lucky bounce . . .).  I can step out for a hot dog. I can deliberate on an invitation to join some passengers on the blimp circling high above the stadium and watch from there.

I have choices.

I can go home and look up from my driveway at the stars blinking in the velvet sky.  Or smell a lilac. Or watch a snowflake melt on the back of my hand. Or read a good book. Or enjoy a play.

But I do not choose Anger or Fear.

Because I realize that is the energy that fueled those who fought the Black Man and the White Woman.

Anger and Fear combine for a toxic sort of fuel.  An energy that motivates and propels, but also pollutes.

I choose instead:

To Love,

To Console,

To Nurture,

To Encourage.

And every once in a while, I imagine, I’ll check in to see how the game is unfolding.

Because I wonder who—without the Black Man or the White Woman—the republican fans and players in the arena can find to be afraid of or angry with next.

Happy Interdependence Day!

Independence is fine–for those of a certain mindset.  A certain something-to-prove-to-the-world that: “I can do it myself!”

Independence has it’s place.  Toddlers need to feel it.  Adolescents certainly do. It’s a necessary illusion for those populations–and also maybe certain leaders of North Korea.  Like all stages of development, it’s a necessary illusion on one’s way to inevitably more and more mature ways of seeing the world.

More realistic understandings about how-things-really-work.

So on this day, July 4th 2015, my challenge for you, fellow children of the earth–my siblings, my kin, my brothers and sisters of humanity– is to find peace with with your independence.

You are growing up so strong and smart.  You really are beyond proving yourself, so take pride in your thoughts, your appearance, your talents, your status, even your mistakes and flaws.  Stop this incessant worrying that you can’t be loved as you are.

You are.

Accept the love and cooperation of those around you. You don’t have to do it alone anymore.

For we are all linked-in-up-together now–connected by threads that are not so invisible anymore.


We influence and are affected by technology–lines and cables and wires and cellular and digital and hard-copy and wi-fi and physical and emotional and intellectual–transmitted and received and passed along both knowingly and unknowingly across leagues of time and space impossible to fathom when we decided (for good reason) to recognize this tribal holiday.

We are evolving.  Growing up. Calming down.

Yes, yes . . . independence is necessary and good–today, and all days.  Move in and out of it as you feel the need.  Play with your imagined independence like a good set of action figures inspired by the blockbuster summer-adventure-thriller-underdog-feel-good movie that swept you away for a couple of hours.

And then, when you are ready–when your independence starts to feel heavy or lonely or you feel the weight of the entire world on your shoulders–join us again.  Come back.  We’re waiting for you to begin celebrating with us–our interdependence.

Strong Schools, Strong Communities, Strong Economies—and vice versa.

dv1453015.jpgLast week, I attended another heart wrenching school board meeting (in Amery this time) where, yet again, people mustered their courage and voices to publically support those that nurture, teach, feed and care for our kids during the day.  I don’t teach in Amery, but I felt compelled to support those who do.

Held in an auditorium for the hundreds of people attending, the speeches to the Amery school board were honest impassioned and . . . becoming way too common.  Three years later, more fallout from Walker’s failed Act 10, another painful meeting, and another community torn apart.

The messages to the board that night all had a common theme: If there is indeed no money and you must continue to cut educator’s wages and benefits, please at least do so in a way that is respectful and empathic.  Please at least protect for these people their dignity.  Please talk with them.  Listen to them.

We know.  New laws no longer require our public education officials to do this–to talk to their employees.  But these are real people, living real lives, with real families to support and plan for.  Many are actually quite brilliant, creative and flexible—but the deep cuts combined with the punishing way they are being delivered are really hurtful and unnecessary—both financially and emotionally.  Public teachers and support staff are not monsters.  Really they are not.

As educators on the front lines, we know, as does everyone, that Wisconsin no longer values its schools.  We see it every day in the increased class sizes and workload carried by an ever-shrinking number of staff.  We know that billions have been cut from the education budget.  We know, even with a state surplus, that those dollars will never be restored.  We know school boards must continue to cut wages and benefits.   We know teaching and learning is only going to get harder in Wisconsin.  We know these things.

And we know also that it isn’t only our educators that are hurting in Wisconsin either.  As the most recent federal jobs report illustrates again, WI leads the nation in new jobless claims.

Our governor and local representatives are great at breaking unions and tearing communities apart. Terrible at creating jobs though.   This from the most recently released federal jobs report:

“The largest increases in initial claims for the week ending February 1 were in Wisconsin (+5,041), New York (+4,830), Pennsylvania (+2,448), New Jersey (+1,853), and Ohio (+1,780), while the largest decreases were in California (-9,631), Georgia (-2,558), Indiana (-2,444), Michigan (-2,411), and Florida (-1,387).”

I know . . .it was the weather.   It’s always the weather.  Or something.  It’s always something.

If we had destroyed our schools in order to create jobs, maybe that would be one thing.  I know that was the argument at the time: “Teachers and other public employees, and their unions, are the enemy–the greedy few.  Punish them.”  But it didn’t work.

All that said, I also know none of it matters.  I realize finally, especially at the local level, that we will continue to support our current representatives and their apathetic destruction of our schools and rural communities.  I know that nobody around here understands the link between strong schools and strong economies.  Strong words, maybe.  Still, I had to get them off my chest.  Because all I see in Wisconsin these days is weakness.