"Taking Out the Garbage"

A young man is confronted by his father about not doing his work in World History, one of his subjects in High School. He explains; the course “isn’t interesting to me- it’s boring.” “I’ll never need to use any of that junk in my life,” he adds. His father retorts, “I take out the garbage, that’s not interesting to me.” What wisdom is the parent attempting to bestow on his son?

From the father’s point of view, aside from realizing piled up garbage is unsanitary and smelly, his son’s old enough to understand that, in life, there will be many things that he is not interested in doing but nevertheless should do anyway. “This is called a responsibility,” says Dad. The parent could probably mention a litany of examples of what he has done for his son over the years that he wasn’t interested in doing- like sitting through the second Transformers movie. However, this might sound like just another lecture, in one ear and out the other. Also, let’s bear in mind that social understanding is one of the last neurological capacities that develops, often in the latter part of High School, or even well after.

Consequently, and lacking real insight into what the father is trying to convey, the son will no doubt have his own perspective. If he takes a moment to think about it, he may actually be perplexed why his father does take out the garbage or any of the many thankless tasks that are the opposite of interesting. Through his eyes, at his age, the adult world is incredibly boring. Adults rarely play video games, or hang out with their friends, and they complain a lot about how much they have to do. They just want to pass on their frustrations to their children by making them sit in the same old tedious classes and do the same meaningless chores they had to do when they were kids. Why should he want any part of it? The son says, “I’m only going to do interesting things in my life, I don’t want to be like you, trust me.” Besides, the son says, “you hardly ever take out the garbage, usually Mom does.” He might also go on to say, “Do you ever use World History in your life, Dad?”

Upon reflection, father will get son’s point. He does do a lot of boring, repetitive things. He is often stressed out from trying to keep up with mundane tasks of life, like paying the bills. Why does he want so badly for his son to do schoolwork he does not enjoy and finds purposeless? For that matter, why shouldn’t his son only do what interests him in his life? Isn’t that part of the American Dream? Why does his son, or anyone’s son, or daughter, really need to take out the garbage? It’s just as important for the father as his son to be clear about the answers to these questions, maybe more, because if the parent lacks clarity and the ability to communicate effectively about this issue, what chance has the son?

Of course, “taking out the garbage,” used in this context, is metaphorical. Also, it’s a given that some children are growing up in homes where there are cleaning people, and those in the family do limited household chores.

Here are some thoughts, for parents and young people, about why comprehending the concept of “taking out the garbage” is essential.

  • Imagine a home where, literally, nobody ever takes out the garbage. The result is obvious. Similarly clear are the consequences of not taking care of the figurative garbage in our lives. The unmet responsibilities would pile up, eventually becoming overwhelming and unmanageable. For instance, every so often we read about someone, even a celebrity, who has not paid their taxes and is facing dire personal and legal problems. Failing to pay your taxes accurately and on time is an example of how not understanding “taking out the garbage” in the abstract can backfire in real life.
  • It’s possible to confuse garbage for treasure, and treasure for garbage, especially when you’re young. Just as hoarders see value in possessions that others would characterize as junk, young people may perceive value in endless hours on a PS3, and fail to see merit in Math or Science, even World History. Missing out on the “treasure” of a good education is something that many come to regret as they realize how limited their college and career options are, and how ill prepared they are for success in the adult world. Also, you never know when something you learned in school will turn out to be relevant. Knowing something about the French Revolution could come in handy on a sales call if your client turns out to be a history buff. But more importantly, even knowledge that has no apparent market value provides a context and foundation for everything else you learn as well as your capacity to think critically. A case example is sports participation. Playing sports when you are young teaches many positive attitudes and behaviors that are applicable throughout your life, even if you never play, let alone become a pro when you get older.
  • Character development and positive values can come about as a result of an epiphany or one critical defining moment (e.g. surviving a major accident or illness, or getting in a lot of trouble), but more often, a solid character is the result of many small behaviors, like taking out the garbage or it’s equivalent, occurring over the course of a long period of time. All the seemingly little responsibilities and sacrifices made during childhood and adolescence add up to enduring habits of “doing the right thing” and living a life filled with purpose, patience, conscientiousness, persistence, sense of priorities, and a positive value system.”
  • We live in a world where emotional and social skills may predict success at least as much as sheer intelligence or technical abilities. Therefore, being proficient in social networking, understanding teamwork, being able to work within the hierarchy of authority, and being group minded, whether at home or in school, are extremely important. Taking out the garbage is part of team-building and prepares one for the inevitable times when you will be asked to see beyond your own needs and “take one for the team.” Taking out the garbage, so to speak, teaches valuable lessons in humbleness and reduces self-centeredness and self-aggrandizement. This will decrease the probability of becoming pseudo-adults, that is, aging chronologically but being fixated in an adolescent way of thinking and behaving. Don’t worry about young people losing their equally valuable rugged individualism and pride in self; many of the so-called millennial generation have ego to spare and, if anything, will err in overvaluing their abilities and probabilities of success.
  • It’s ironic, but taking out the garbage tends to increase self-worth. People feel best when they are developing competencies and making contributions to their own life or to the lives of others. In contrast, avoiding taking care of the boring, annoying, or inconvenient tasks of life provides only temporary relief and actually lowers self-respect in the long run. When you spoil or enable young men or women, there can be lasting collateral damage to their self-confidence and hard to be replaced windows of opportunity to learn valuable life lessons.

In the high-tech world of information processing, there’s an adage- GIGO. It means Garbage In, Garbage Out. In the low-tech world of everyday life, our young man who does not see the worth of his World History class would do well to keep in mind the principal of GOFI, meaning Garbage Out, Functioning In. Otherwise, he is likely to find his world becoming a pretty stinky place.

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