There are some things I want to talk to you about today, and some things I really, really don’t want to talk to you about today. I don’t want to talk about politics. I don’t want to talk about the President. I don’t really even want to talk about Washington. What matters most right now is what you are doing with your life in your own community.
Over the past few years, I’ve been blessed to have the opportunity to travel all over the country and halfway around the world. I’ve met amazing people and seen some of the most beautiful places on earth. But in recent months, I’ve chosen to spend my free time with my family at our ranch in the Mountain West. Why? Because I know now, as a man and as a dad, how important it is to teach my kids the value of hard work; to teach them about the values that our parents and our grandparents grew up with - it didn’t have anything to do with video games or smart phones.
Just a few weeks ago, TheBlaze published its biggest story of all time with 4.3 million views. It wasn’t about a national scandal, a terrorist attack, or an election. It was Ashton Kutcher, of all people, standing in front of a bunch of teenagers at the Teen Choice Awards talking about the importance of hard work:
“When I was 13, I had my first job with my dad carrying shingles up to the roof, and then I got a job washing dishes at a restaurant, and then I got a job in a grocery store deli, and then I got a job at a factory sweeping Cheerio dust off the ground,” Kutcher said. “And I’ve never had a job in my life that I was better than. I was always just lucky to have a job. And every job I had was a stepping stone to my next job, and I never quit my job until I had my next job. And so opportunities look a lot like work.”
I’ve thought a lot about why this message resonated so much with our audience, and here’s what I’ve concluded: Human beings are wired to understand the value of hard work, but millions of Americans have been seduced by a 'free stuff' society. People are desperate for someone, anyone, to speak the truth - especially to our youngsters. The ‘leaders’ in Washington, D.C. have grown accustomed to merely offering more free candy than the other guy. For example, does anyone think two years of unemployment benefits is a good idea? Will opportunity really find you after 99 weeks on the couch? Of course not. But not many people are willing to say it. That’s why Ashton’s message went viral - it was truth. A truth society desperately needs.
As parents, we have to understand the culture around us. The things we grew up understanding - hard work, diligence, persistence - are not what America’s current crop of youngsters are being taught. Equal stuff, ‘fairness’, trophies-for-all, and political correctness are, sadly, the new standard bearers. As parents, we have to understand this cultural change and lead the charge against it. I know this isn’t easy. Our kids are growing up learning about the 'free (and equal) stuff' society, while simultaneously living with so many conveniences we went without. It sometimes feels impossible to get them to understand that these things didn’t just appear out of thin air. Someone’s blood, sweat, tears, failures - and HARD WORK - made it happen.
I grew up working in my dad’s bakery and, in the summers, on my grandfather’s farm. They taught me the value of hard work, honesty, and decency. My dad worked his tail to the bone. And because I saw him working so hard every day, I strove to share that work ethic. And because of that work ethic, my family changed. My family has more opportunities. Because of my father’s work ethic, I have opportunities that he didn’t have. Because of my work ethic, my children have opportunities that I didn’t have.
I’m away from my children an awful lot because I work an awful lot, but I don’t work more than you do. I work 12 hours a day and then I come home. I try to be at home for dinner with my kids. I try to be home on weekends. Sometimes I can’t, but I’m trying to be better at it. We’re reading our scriptures together, and we’re telling stories together. We’re spending more time together as a family.
But on days like today, days where I am fortunate enough not to have to work and I can spend time with my family, I’ve decided we, as a family, are going to be at the ranch because, frankly, when we are there, we don’t have much of a choice but to do things as a family. I can get them away from electronics, which aren’t inherently bad - but how often do we spent too much time on our phones instead of actually engaging with people? How easy is it to send a text message or an e-mail rather than pick up the phone or walk downstairs? How easy is it to turn on video games or the TV, rather than talk to our kids at the table about their day and what they learned.
We have got to get back to the things that have value. We have to teach our kids about work ethic and what matters. We have to make them go outside and play in the dirt with rocks and sticks and imagination, not waste their day on mindless video games that kill creativity and disconnect them from reality. We have got to interact on a human level, not a digital one.
Today, I want you to try a little experiment that I have been doing with my own family. Turn off the video games and computer while the kids are awake. Don’t rely on electronics for your entertainment - rely on one another. At dinner, we’re reading our scriptures together and we’re talking. After we clean everything up, we’re playing games. We’re doing these small things, and yet I’ve already seen a change in my own family.
Another thing we are doing is making sure everything our family consumes is something positive. I’ve put together about thirty songs that are positive and hopeful, and I’m playing them around the house. If you are sick and tired of being sick and tired, change your attitude. That’s what we are trying to do.
If you want people to follow you - don’t be angry, bitter, and frustrated. No one looks at that type of person and says, "I want to be like that."
Be grateful. Be joyful. Be a blessing to others. But most importantly, lead by example. If we want to raise a generation that understands the value of hard work, we must begin the hard work at home. And make no mistake, we face an uphill climb. If you don’t believe me, after you are done reading this go get an ice-cream sandwich out of the freezer and ask your child if they’d rather:
A) Eat it right now, free of charge
B) Take a bath, clean the dishes, pick up the toys, and do their homework so they can earn the snack
Is it an uphill battle? You bet. But it is a battle we can WIN because we are on the side of truth. It all starts at home, and it all starts with YOU.
Here’s to the next generation of Americans - may they understand that opportunity looks a lot like hard work.