Last night I sailed with young man who moaned about how lazy freeloaders in our society rely on “entitlements” to get by rather than by earning a living with hard, honest work. I was at loss for words upon hearing such nonsense from a young person like him. I’ve heard it too many times before from the shriveled and spent self-righteious old-timers. As I contemplated the young man’s sentiments, a song I learned many years ago, came to mind and I have not been able to shake it off.
In “There’s a Hole in the Bucket,” a young man named Henry is sent to fetch water by Liza. When the young man sees that the bucket has a hole in it, he calls out to Lisa with the bad news.
Liza replies with a tone of voice that makes it clear that she thinks Henry is lazy, stupid and looking, always, for a way avoid honest working. With lilting condescension, she calls back to him, “Well, mend it dear Henry, dear Henry, just mend it.”
As we listen to the conversation back and forth between Henry and Liza we learn that Henry will need to cut straw to mend the bucked but the axe to cut it with is too dull. The only way to sharpen it will be with stone wetted with water retrieved in the bucket.
“But” Henry says to Liza, “There’s a hole in bucket.”
This is the circularity that afflicts the poor in our society. Their affectation of laziness and cluelessness reflects the hopelessness of their situation. The poor understand that the game is rigged. Although they can fetch the water well enough if they have a bucket, they are not a position that allows them to fix it.