“…I not only learned that it was not a disgrace to labour, but learned to love labour, not alone for its financial value, but for labour’s own sake and for the independence and self-reliance which the ability to do something which the world wants done brings.” -Booker T. Washington, Up from Slavery (1901)
Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson
While any man or woman who has acquired any measure of success in their chosen field of endeavor has learned that they must labour (work), the founding principal and president of Tuskegee University extends this notion further. Booker T. Washington suggests that one must “learn to love labour (work)”, and he provides three attendant fruits beyond “financial value’ for those who have “learned to love labour (work).” First, those who love to work have learned the intrinsic value of the work itself-“for labour’s own sake.” The discovery of one’s passion often comes through the repeated doing and subsequent mastery of a particular task in a particular field that eventually leads to an intrinsic joy in doing what one may eventually become successful doing. Some people learn to love what they do well but this comes only after one actually tries to do something. (The “passion” to do something often leads to “success” and can lead to an individual’s eventual coming to understand their personal sense of “calling.”) Second, “independence” and “self-reliance” is also a result of “learning to love labour (work).” Knowledge obtained in the wise doing (labour) of any task-wisdom is but knowledge applied-is transferrable to any environment. Such a man or woman possesses that which cannot ever be taken from him or her. (Knowledge is the chief asset in an rapidly changing 21st century politically, economic and increasingly pluralistic society and herein is the basis of their “independence” and “self-reliance”.) While these men or woman certainly do not become an island to themselves, they know “how,” “what,” “when,” “where” and “who” to seek additional knowledge from to complement their own. (These men and women can readily identify what “knowledge,” the second greatest 9-letter word, looks like because they have it themselves.) Lastly, the “love of labour” has perhaps the most important fruit: “the ability to do something which the world wants done…” All of our work (labour) means little if it does not result in service to others. Better still, when this work serves not only those in the present generation but in subsequent generations, such work has the opportunity to stand rank and file with men and women like Booker T. Washington whose work at Tuskegee University in the centennial year of his passing (1915-2015) is still “something which the world wants” and that the world needs.
Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.
7th President, Tuskegee University