Even more than taxi drivers and bus drivers, the workers I most enjoy having a conversation with these days are barbers. Embarrassing confession time: when I was younger (and pathetically foolish) I went around with misplaced contempt for laborers such as these; why aren’t you out trying to change the world, I would scowl naively under their clippers… why aren’t you trying to “make a difference”? What kind of life are you living, by settling for being a “mere” barber??
Well, these half-forgotten memories bubbled shamefully to the surface today as I looked at my [sigh… balding] reflection in the bathroom mirror and judged that I desperately needed a haircut. Is it a sign of mid-life crisis, to be constantly measuring one’s current views against those held so dogmatically in one’s youth? Because I am increasingly stunned at the degree of change I notice within myself, especially my thoughts on the little things in life. I’ll take it as hopeful evidence that I’ve perhaps become a “grown-up”, at long last, for I now look forward to the perspective and wisdom that barbers, in particular, have to teach me.
This morning I found much to learn indeed. In my wanderings I discovered a wonderful shop owned by a warm and welcoming Eastern European gentleman. It didn’t take long to discover this was a match made in Heaven, him loving to share stories and me loving to listen.
Forty years in Canada after a youth spent rotting behind the Iron Curtain gave this older worker stories aplenty, let me tell you..! When I eventually asked him what he thought when he saw younger people sporting USSR logos on t-shirts and hammer-and-sickle icons on baseball caps, our conversation really turned interesting. “They don’t know, and they don’t want to know”, he said after the briefest of pauses. Is there any simpler way to summarize the willful ignorance of youthful vanity? His statement certainly summarized my position back when I was high on the illusory virtues of socialism during my own naïve youth.
From his perspective of having had the same shop in the same place for decades, often serving young customers from birth to college, he had many sad personal observations about the deterioration of the bonds of Family, and the changes brought upon family life by the ready prevalence of drugs. “Is it always the kids fault they take these things, when they see their own father selling it? When they see their own mother using drugs at home all the time?” Who will teach them right and wrong, if it is not their parents, he asked rhetorically.
Well, the memory of our fascinating conversation suggests to me a suitable answer to this rhetorical question: it is the example of the dedicated laborer, it is the witnessing of the harvest of the dependable worker, it is through contact with these positive experiences that civilization holds the chance to steer the young away from their current self-serving paths of self-destruction. Someone who takes pride in having their job done well, someone who enters into a contractual commitment with another and then works not just to fulfill expectations, but to surpass them… surely it is experiences and examples such as these that can have the necessary influence to save an empty life tumbling towards self-destruction.
Success doesn't just happen; it is made to happen. If a kid doesn’t know how to do anything, then no wonder they feel no loss in getting high; they have no skills to impair, no responsibilities to jeapardize, no future success to look forward to. If someone has never earned anything from the sweat of their own labor, then no wonder they are quick to adopt the belief system that the fruit of everyone's labor should be re-distributed “fairly”; they have not tasted the natural intoxication that can come from the pride of earning so much that much can then be given to charity… charity itself being the true blessing of wealth, socialism being the negation of charity.
If I could travel back in time, the older gentleman that I’ve become would greet his younger self with a sympathetic, yet stern correction to his youthful dreams of wanting to “change the world” by “making a difference”. Change the world, he would say, by daring to change yourself: embrace the ultimate challenge to make yourself into a Better Person, since, considering your starting position, that will be change aplenty to satisfy anybody. Make a difference in others' lives by making your own life one filled with differences: keep improving your ability to be of increased service to others. Change through the leverage of positive example.
The young who fry their minds with their poisons, whether in literal doses through drugs or figurative ones like marxism, are in a race against time, as each time either noxious fumes are ingested it weakens their ability to be of further long-term service to others, and therefore to themselves. In their adoption of a cynically self-serving nihilism they curse themselves to remain children of mind even as they age in body, always needing the protective care of servants, whether from their own family, or the proxy one of the state.
The race is on: will the minds of the young last long enough to learn the humiliating lessons so necessary to true growth? Will the good examples in their lives outnumber the bad, revealing that the biggest rewards so often come from the simplest of acts of service... like the humble achievement of being able to offer a good haircut, as advertised?
May they learn the humility to say a grateful “thank you” from appreciating the treasure that is a job well done…
and a Covenant fulfilled.