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Down on the Farm -- Shed fancy pants, haul manure

Sociologist Herman Snordpickel, Phd., has released his latest study, "The Midwestern Work Ethic: Myth vs. Reality."

Snordpickel discussed his findings in an interview last week.

"We hear a lot about Midwestern work habits," Snordpickel said. "There is a persistent belief that a Midwesterner has a great advantage when he or she moves to either coast because, unlike coastal types, Midwesterners show up every day, work hard, and don't sue if they fall and break their neck."

While there is truth to the myth, Snordpickel claims, it doesn't tell the whole story.

"Hard work is valued in the rural Midwest," Snordpickel said, "but one has to be careful not to go overboard."

"Hard Workers" who get too enthused risk becoming "Go-Getters," people intent upon earning more money than they could possibly need.

"To be called a Hard Worker is a compliment in the rural Midwest," Snordpickel alleges, "but when they start calling you a Go-Getter, look out."

"Hard work is what got people through the Great Depression," Snordpickel says, summing up the Midwestern view, "but Go-Getters cause depressions."

Consequently, the Midwestern work ethic is limited to work which is survival-oriented. Cutting wood. Weeding the garden. Tilling the earth. Baking bread. Hauling grain. Mowing lawn. Canning.

"White collar work is OK," Snordpickel said, "as long as it is seen as a necessary evil, something to be done for the sake of a paycheck."

"Those raised in the rural Midwest can adapt to a desk job," Snordpickel argues, "but they really don't feel fulfilled until they punch the clock, run home and move a pile of dirt from point A to point B."

Only after completing a mind-numbing manual chore somehow related to farming does the Midwesterner feel a faint glimmer of approval from long-dead ancestors who broke the prairie to plant wheat.

"I mean, I have worked hard at being a good professor," Snordpickel says, citing a personal example, "but when I come home for Thanksgiving, all they want to talk about is whether I have re-shingled the roof."

"If I so much as open my mouth about my fancy-pants professor job, I won't get three sentences in before somebody will say, 'well, we sure don't want you to get a big head!'" Snordpickel said.

A Big Head, according to Snordpickel, has nothing to do with bragging and egotism. No, Snordpickel insists, "people with a Big Head are merely those who act as if their desk job in the city is the moral equivalent of hauling manure."

"Things go fine at Thanksgiving," Snordpickel elaborated, "as long as I realize that no matter how many degrees I get, no matter how much money I make, no matter how many conferences I attend, my work has never been, nor ever will be, equal to a nice pile of manure."

"Generally speaking," Snordpickel said as he attempted to calm down, "the Midwestern work ethic views white-collar careers as OK only if you realize that when times get tough you're going to have come home and raise chickens."

Since by most accounts the Great Depression is over, Snordpickel says the Midwestern work ethic dictates that the next best thing to do is putz around the yard honing one's survival skills in preparation for the next Great Depression.

"You wonder why people up here mow acres of lawn," Snordpickel said. "It is because they've convinced themselves they are putting up hay."

Therefore, mowing lawn is more valued by the Midwestern work ethic than are shady careers like banking, practicing law, selling stocks and professoring.

"When Midwesterners go to New York and see all those stockbrokers commuting and running in circles and trying to get promotions, their reaction is one of bemused pity," Snordpickel said. "They think to themselves, 'what'll those poor people do when the bottom falls out?'"

As a result, a big downside for hardworking rural Midwesterners who move to the big city and fall prey to career ambition is that they seldom get any appreciation from the people at home.

"I can't count how many times I have been reminded who pays my big salary," Professor Snordpickel concluded with disgust. "It's those people hauling manure."