I was not a good enough high school athlete to warrant a scholarship to attend college at a Division I school. Instead, I signed up to run for Division III Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. In four years there I ran an estimated 10,000-12,000 miles in training through multiple seasons of cross country, indoor track and outdoor track.
In cross country season we often did two-a-day workouts in the fall. These typically involved 6-8 mile runs before classes, which started at 8:00 a.m. The afternoon workout would constitute of another 6-10 miles . We did speed on Tuesdays if there were no weekday meets and a brisk fartlek or tempo workout on Thursdays.Our weekly mileage added up to 70-100 miles, much of it run at an insane pace of 6:00 per mile. Then we competed 13 times during cross-country season.
Earning the way
That first year at college (or any year, for that matter) I had little money to pay for school or anything else. My parents were just coming out of some tough financial times, so the $3800 annual room and board was a stretch for us even in 1970s money. That meant I enrolled in a Work-Study program to help pay for college. The jobs paid $1.10 per hour, and I worked in the kitchen.
The worst job in the kitchen was unloading dishes from the automatic dishwasher. It was a huge stainless steel monster with a dark craw from which rows of scalding hot dishes would emerge with relentless pace. The dishes would never cool by the time the conveyor delivered them to your hands. That meant three hours of aching fingertips and throbbing palms. For some reason, they never thought to give us rubber gloves. Which might have helped.
The kitchen was run by a dour woman named Gladys who presided over her troops of college kids with sullen determination. Yes, the place ran on time. Yes, we were all in the work study program together. Yes, we were paying our dues. Literally. One hot dish at a time.
The other interesting gig in the kitchen was working the conveyor where the dishes were deposited when students were finished eating. What a mess. Cups and plates came stuffed or covered with peanut butter that you had to scrape out. It never ended.
One day my buddies from biology class decided to play a prank on me. I’d had to hurry out of class to work the noon dishroom shift and that meant asking them to finish stuffing a fox squirrel during taxidermy lab. That was an interesting world as well, because we’d often boil the skulls and it smelled like chicken in the lab, all the time.
So I was working the front of the dish line when what comes floating through on a plate with garnishes… but the head of the squirrel I’d left behind for them to complete. My buddies had removed the head, stuck a carrot between its teeth and displayed on a plate. The girl next to me swooned and fell away. I laughed and tossed the squirrel head into the big black plastic garbage bag next to the counter. Gladys never saw it.
Kids these days
I share these tales for comparison because paying your dues working in jobs like the college dishroom is getting to be something of a meme thrown at millennials entering the workplace. There seems to be a belief among people over a certain age, perhaps 35, that “kids these days” are unwilling to pay their dues. I’ve read missives on Linkedin from CEOs giving shrill, hard advice to millennials that no one owes them anything and they’d better shape up. Every day on Linkedin there seems to additional commentary about how millennials are spoiled and think everything needs to be delivered to them on a plate.
But if I were a millennial, I’d lop off the head of a squirrel and send it right back to these obnoxious people claiming they already paid their dues and think the youth of today are so spoiled. Crap like that has been going on for two millennia. Here’s a quote from Socrates more than a few years ago:
“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.”
Sound familiar? Yes, it does. It’s the same theme of every generation. People whine for the “good old days” when all kids showed respect. And it’s bullshit. People getting on in years always find excuses for their own selfish aims and fears.
The truth hitting the Baby Boomer generation so hard is this: Kids really don’t care what you think when you’ve hardened your hearts to them, or taken advantage of their time through unpaid internships, or refused to pay them fair starting wages. Society has flaunted the privileges of ownership and the power of management. Kids these days see right through that bullshit methodology and warrantless demand for respect.
We hear Generation G (which stands for Greedy and includes anyone bitching that they already ‘paid their dues’) snarking that millennials won’t answer the phone and prefer to receive a text before engaging. Well, that’s how they’ve grown up, with phone etiquette that differs from your own. It’s an evolved behavior, not a choice. It’s similar to why birds sing or pose rather than fight. It’s ritualized and a show of sensitivity. But it’s viewed as insensitivity by Generation G because people of a certain fixed viewpoint choose to respond like parents that have lost the attention of their children because they refuse to ask if they’re ready to have a conversation. Lack of respect in one direction begets lack of respect in another.
The attitude that Generation G is “entitled” to respect is symptomatic of the selfishness and impatience we’re seeing on the political front as well. Millions of people are lining up to support the likes of Donald Trump because he acts like they think. He’s acquisitive, demanding and refuses to be ignored. He’s a selfish jerk by all counts, who can’t legitimately define his policies or even his true beliefs, so he just goes around saying what people want to hear, which is selfish, boorish bullshit. He’s a post-modern perversion of the classic Yes Man, who excels in the corporate world because he aggrandizes himself to those in power, or with power in the Donald’s case.
This is the point to which society has devolved. Divas bitching they can’t get any respect from “kids these days.”
There is precious little evidence on business sites like Linkedin that people see any deeper than the tip of their noses. It’s convenient to point fingers at millennials and predict dire things for the future because it absolves those currently responsible for the deconstructed nation as well as the support they’ve tacitly given to people that lie to our faces and refuse to govern, then claim the high ground.
I believe millennials are reacting to the browbeating actions of a jaded generation with a call for respect based on humanity. They do it through digital means perhaps, and that drives the so-called “real Americans” fucking crazy. Yet it’s the same brand of passive response to aggression and selfishness advocated by the likes of Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr. who believed it is best to meet the violent, selfish nature of others with compassion. Or ignore it altogether. Then it is disarmed. But first, the sirens of selfishness are likely to scream. Like divas.
What’s done, is done
So I don’t sit here complaining that I had to work in the dishroom during college. Nothing I can do now will ever change that fact. It was hard, and I hated it. Every minute of it. The experience depressed me mentally and physically. It made it difficult to excel in the sports I chose to engage.
When I finally was freed from dishroom duty my senior year in college, and took a job with the campus recreation department doing graphics for campus activities, the hours were much easier to manage. And as a direct result, I also rose from seventh man on the cross country team to second man for much of the season. We went on to place second in the nation that fall. The following spring I won the conference steeplechase championship as well.
The point here is that paying my dues did not make me better at anything. If anything, it made me so relieved to be done with that shit I excelled out of sheer delight.
I question whether forcibly expecting people to “pay their dues” accomplishes anything toward true excellence. The world where sorority and fraternity hazing were so tolerated may be slowly disappearing. There’s hope in that. But there are still plenty of campus rapes to consider, which is a product of a certain brand of belief in entitlement by young man who do not respect young women.
There are old jokes still around such as, “What’s the different between rape and rapture? Salesmanship.” And some people almost seem to believe that rape is a form of “paying dues” for being too attractive or dressing a certain way.
It’s a sickness in society to think like this. But people get away with and always have unless someone calls them out and points out the absurdity of their arguments that their personal sensation fo entitlement should not be questioned even as they question the differing modalities of each and every new generation. If Socrates could be so wrong about the kids of his day, who ultimately turned out just fine, then so can you.
And you should shut up about it. Because you sound like a spoiled diva.
SHOW RESPECT. GIVE FULLY.