Small agrarian communities seem to revolve around two things – farming and school. Understandably, as those two industries are the largest local employers. May is a hum of activity with planters running in the field and excitement running through all of the kids as they anticipate their soon to be grasped freedom.
In the midst of this whirlwind, a few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to be on the interviewing panel for next year’s officers in our local FFA chapter. It was a simple set-up; the applicants came in one at a time, we asked them a few rounds of questions and then moved to the next one. The questions ranged in topics from FFA trivia to future plans, yet one question asked by another judge really stood out to me:
“Recite the FFA motto and tell us what it means to you.”
The question was good, but the answers were downright intriguing. The FFA organization is rich with history and tradition and the FFA Motto has always been my favorite part of that tradition – even when the blue corduroy jacket was on my own back. It goes like this:
“Learning to Do
Doing To Learn,
Earning to Live,
Living to Serve.”
Powerful, right? I really think it gets richer the more I think about it, and I love the way that it builds upon itself and seems to sum up a simple progression of personal maturity. Yet, what I found amazing during the officer interviews was how many students interpreted the motto line by line, and neglected to see any overarching theme that connected each statement. Not that each line isn’t powerful on its own, but a portion of the meaning is missing when any line is taken out of the context of the whole motto.
Even out of context the students seemed to have a fair grasp of each line’s meaning – with the glaring exception of the words “Earning to Live.” Remarkably, all but one explained the meaning of “Earning to Live” in monetary words. That is, something along the lines of, “You have to earn money in order to be able to live” or “It takes money to buy what you need to live, so you need to earn that money.”
Now please, please, please don’t think that I am attacking any of the students for this! If it were just a misconception held by one or two, then maybe those one or two individuals might afford some level of blame. However, these students had no idea what questions they would be asked once they walked through the door into the interview room – yet we heard student after student answering this question in the same manner. It was obvious to the four of us on the judging panel that we were not looking at a naïve individual, but rather at a glaring cultural misconception.
I’m not saying that money doesn’t have value. It clearly has enough value for us to quantify it! And I’m not disagreeing that some amount of money is required in order to live. And, generally speaking, we work for our farms to be profitable – or at least pay for themselves. But somewhere along the lines we’ve gotten focused enough on earning money that sometimes we forget that there are other things worth earning too. Things that allow us to live a full life - even in capacities that money can’t touch. Things like honor and respect. Things that are earned by hard work and cultivating honesty, integrity, wisdom and other virtues.
We value work ethic, but we don’t cultivate it in ourselves just so that we can use it to earn money. We cultivate it because it makes us a better human being, and the better we are as a human being the better we can affect humanity as a whole. And that is “earning to live.”
We know that, we just forget it sometimes. But I fear that in our forgetfulness we are failing to show the next generation that such things are important, or exist at all. Sitting and facing tomorrow’s leaders, dressed in FFA’s blue and gold, was a wake-up call for me. The youth truly are the future. And it caused me to question, “What am I doing to influence and safeguard that future?” Each day, how am I “earning to live”?