Very little work results in these life lessons
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If there's a contest for making the most stupid remark this political season, we may have a winner. That would be Hilary Rosen, the Democratic pundit who observed that Ann Romney, a mother of five, "never worked a day in her life."
Because everybody knows that a mother's work is never done, Ms. Rosen's remark went over like a squadron of concrete balloons. While it was a clumsy attempt to mock Mrs. Romney, my own reaction was different. I took it as a character recommendation.
I don't begrudge Mrs. Romney at all. While other little boys grew up wanting to be firefighters or pilots, I just wanted never to work a day in my life. The best I could do was to go into journalism, where the heavy lifting isn't much (although I did get a paper cut once).
Besides, work is work, a tedious business in all its variety. There's the work of the conventional world -- the sort that gave rise to the expression "Work is the curse of the drinking man" -- and there's the work of the parent, looking after children and helping strap the dog to the roof of the family car. It is arrogant to suggest one is superior to the other.
Indeed, having been more than 40 years in the newspaper industry -- tote that sentence, pull that adjective -- I have sometimes wondered whether I might have done better had I truly never worked a day in my life, say as a member of Congress or as a civil servant in a government department. But this conjecture raises a larger question beyond politics.
What are a person's signature achievements that add up to a well-rounded life? Is work in a conventional workplace a prerequisite for wisdom and understanding? Here's my own observations drawn from years of experience in being alive, albeit sometimes with a comatose look from having attended too many office meetings:
• Everybody should go to college. Young people should stay up to all hours of the night in dorm rooms and argue absurd political and philosophical points with fellow students, the better to get absurdity out of their systems. A failure to do this can lead to an addiction to talk radio in later years.
Only in college can young minds immerse themselves in reading the great poets and writers, understanding history, studying the world of science, and later, just for a break, learning to play Beer Pong.
• Everybody should have one doomed romance. You know the saying: It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. Unfortunately, this is a complete lie. It's a real pain to be dropped by someone who obviously has no taste.
The only good that comes from failed love affairs is that they teach people that they are not as attractive as they thought and they may have to develop a sense of humor to compensate. Please try to do this, people. It would help me in my column-writing work.
• Everybody should serve a spell in the military. Ideally, an old-fashioned drill sergeant can tell the young recruit that he (or she) is a horrible worm, a useless [bad word], a [bad word] and [another bad word] only good for [you guessed it, yet another bad word].
However, it may be that drill sergeants have changed with the times and now put a mint on the recruits' pillows before bed. I sincerely hope not. Say what you like about the old, rude boot camp treatment, but it did prepare many a man for matrimony later. Yes sir, yes dear.
• Everybody should be married at least once because, let's face it, you are never going to be given so many presents at one time on any other occasion.
• Everybody should have the blessing of children. It is true that when small they require a lot of maintenance and when big they eat you out of house and home, take the car keys and play Beer Pong in the basement, this being the only sign you will see of their expensive college educations. But, on the plus side, having children does give you an excuse to go to Disney World on vacation.
• Everybody should work in a corporate setting sometime, with all the warmth and cuddly ambience that suggests, if only to understand that corporations aren't really people.
Mrs. Romney may be given a pass on this last requirement because her husband may himself be a corporation. But what makes for a good life is a large number of factors, not just one. Ms. Rosen's dog of a remark won't hunt, even if it isn't strapped to the car roof.
First Published April 18, 2012 12:00 am