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Lessons from a Car Wash

I hear a lot of negativity these days about youth. Lazy. That comes up a lot. Don't want to work. Don't know how to work. Yet I wonder how many of those adults who are so quick with their accusations and judgements have ever taken the time to teach these kids to work.

I worked today with kids from Station Maine at a car wash. I found these kids not only willing, but anxious to perform to the highest standards. Standing in the sun for six hours they took pleasure in a job well done. They grumbled not a bit when they were asked to wash the same truck three times. They learned from one car that getting the surface wet with a soapy sponge isn't enough. You have to put some elbow grease to it to scrub the sticky pollen streaks off. They learned from a black truck how the dirt cakes up under the step into the drivers seat, and from yet another that the inside and outside of the wheel bed need special attention. They quickly learned and understood that customers don't need to hear them argue over who gets the hose. Kind, patient, understanding drivers waited patiently while they learned.

I hear that kids have no manners. If I'm to judge from television I'm almost sure to agree. But real kids, our kids, are trying to learn how to behave in this society. How many of us, other than long suffering parents, have taken the time to teach these kids their manners? The kids from the car wash learned, with very little coaxing, to acknowledge those who say thank you, and to address customers as ma'am or sir. They were quick to help people load packages into their cars, to pick up whatever an older person dropped, and even to hand up garments blown down in the sidewalk sale. Those who they helped were not slow or shy to thank them. They saw good citizens in training and were anxious to participate.

Rare is the person among us who is born knowing how to work or how to behave. Almost nobody is born knowing how to wash a car. This next generation wants to grow up, to fit in, to excel. They can't get there without our help. Parents can only do so much without the backing of their society. We have a massive media out there teaching kids that arrogence towards authority is acceptable behavior. We have ever so glamorous rock stars teaching that indifference to the feelings of others is a more powerful position than caring.

The burden must fall on us, the older generation, to teach kids right from wrong. Not every kid is receptive to correction and help, but most are. Growing up these days is every bit as hard as it was for us. Parenting is a nightmare in the face of "gangsta" rap and computer porn. Parents and kids alike need our support and our help, not our judgement.

So, I suggest, the next time you hear a child respond to their parents with "whatever" you take the time to remind him or her that parents are to be treated with respect. No parent will condemn you for that bit of help. I suggest that the next time you see a kid doing a really good job of anything at all that you take the time to praise them. I suggest that we as a nation take up the reins of personal responsibility for the social education of those who will lead this country when we are gone.

Our kids are strong, smart, and willing. They are ambitious and hungry to do the right thing, to succeed. It is our job to teach them. Station Maine sends our thanks to the drivers and parents who helped us succeed in our car wash, and to the staff of Wal-Mart for their support and kindness.


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