Last Saturday, my older son fell off the swing in the backyard and broke both his wrists.
I spent each day at home with him, logging in to work on my laptop just a few times when I could, in between administering doses of medicine, running him to the doctors, feeding him, dressing him, helping him go to the bathroom or even simply shift positions in his chair. With both arms banged up, he couldn’t even push himself up when he started to slouch.
I’m absolutely exhausted. He’s on the mend, but the whole episode over the past several days has revealed so much that we all tend to take for granted, I think.
The most important lesson over the past week has been this: We should all lose ourselves in something completely and totally selfless from time to time. Parenting, as depicted above, can be one of those things. There’s great value in doing something that has little or no rationality behind it. No personal benefit, no altruistic higher purpose for which we believe we can gain good Karma points, just plain old long, dreary, difficult work for the benefit of someone else, even if they never thank us or show any outward signs of appreciation.
I think we hear similar stories from charity workers, social workers, firefighters, soldiers and others who are there because they believe in something bigger than themselves. Perhaps those notions have been romanticized in film and fiction, though. No matter, because what I found by helping my son this week was what all those possibly unrealistic, yet nonetheless wonderful, depictions of people working hard for so little in return already know = sometime you do your best work out of a sense of duty.
That is a concept that gets lost in the discussions of creating a better, more well-managed, more easily facilitated and enjoyable workplace. The sense of raw, exhausting effort put forth because we signed up to give our best no matter what the conditions. Today, we see people encouraged to walk away, or play politics, or manage and influence others – but we don’t often advise them to uphold their duty.
It seems a dirty word, doesn’t it? (Interesting that it is a four-letter word, too.) Perhaps we’ve simply matured – we’ve overcome our naivete and discovered that putting forth our best effort isn’t rewarded. Therefore, we employ a rational choice – we do just enough to earn the reward. Anything over and above that simply doesn’t provide a strong return on our investment of time & energy. On the other hand, maybe we’ve become spoiled – we expect to be given something in return for minimal effort and, therefore, don’t feel the need to expend the maximum possible. The end result, either way, feels like something that might be a bit conceited – we don’t owe others our best anymore, they owe us theirs. A generation ago, it used to be that if everyone simply did their best and kept to themselves, everything would be fine. Now, it is a matter of everyone receiving the outputs of everyone else doing their best, and being as vocal as possible when they do not.
I will confess, I’m in the latter camp. This blog is pretty clear evidence of that. Somewhere, the world flipped. Hopefully for the better, however, in thinking about my own personal sense of duty and obligations to my family, it does give me reason to pause, reflect, and consider that I just might be wrong about a few things, too. That, of course, is why taking a moment to reflect and ponder is so vital, and so very often leads to a nagging sense of regret, stupidity, and…eventually…..wisdom.
Of course, there are always more lessons to learn, and my younger son provided that, too. Most importantly, this one:
Innocence is bliss. The older son, age 7, and his brother, age 2, were both on the swings when the older one fell. The little one was strapped into his toddler swing, and left to hang there for a few minutes while we got his older brother some ice and rushed him into the car. As Mom took big brother to the Emergency Room, crying his eyes out the whole way, the little guy simply said his brother was “sad” and then looked at me and demanded, “Push.”