Friday, August 15, 2014
Two Virutous Concepts that are Not Really That Virtuous
The Good Provider: This is a well-known and honored concept - a virtuous individual, stepping up to take care of a group of people, usually blood relations (but not always). It is a "talking point" when folks describe their primary relationships. A wife tells her friends at the play group, "I can be a stay-at-home mom because my husband is a good provider; I don't have to work." The husband tells his buddies at the bar, "I can pursue my passion for music/art/golf/whatever because my wife is a good provider; I don't have to work." Offspring of the Good Provider tell their friends, "I can use mom's/dad's credit card to buy dinner for all of you because he/she is a Good Provider." Those receiving the support of a Good Provider have economic security and a less difficult path through the financial jungle. The Good Provider gains contentment and a sense of fulfilled responsibility through his/her ability to "take care" of the family.
But there is a dark side to the Good Provider concept...
The working member of the single-earner household may be physically absent from the family or emotionally distant or abusive or sodden with drink every night, but he/she can wrap himself/herself in the golden banner of "the Good Provider" to offset these faults. The Good Provider concept is totalitarianism on a very small scale. It is a concept that breeds dependency and authoritarianism. It is corrosive to human relationships - those receiving support are fearful of losing it and resentful of the power of the Good Provider. The Good Provider may be angry and judgmental when the dependents do not perform up to his/her standards, and can engage in economic blackmail to force compliance. The folks that depend on the Good Provider learn how to be helpless, or may develop a sense of entitlement, or may turn consumption into a weapon to keep the Good Provider focused on his role. And the Good Provider is trapped - he/she has to labor diligently to maintain the flow of treasure required to support the family unit. If a job is lost, or a business fails, or health problems prevent continued employment, the Good Provider can sink into despair over the loss of his/her purpose.
The Good Provider can be a virtuous concept, but it often leads to misery and pain for all that have believed the hype.
Never Give Up: "Never Give Up" is a concept that is hard to resist. Steely determination and persistence in the face of resistance and adversity are almost always judged to be virtuous. It is memorialized in clichés - "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." If you Google "never give up quotes" you will find nuggets from Winston Churchill, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, Clint Eastwood, Alice Cooper and Nicki Minaj. Successful people almost always overcome some setbacks before achieving success, right?
Well, yes, but...
I had a great boss who once told me, "It is always best to escape with your life." People sometimes end up in dire circumstances because they refuse to accept a core reality - some things can't or won't happen no matter how much effort and determination are expended to achieve those things. And, yes, there are clichés backing this concept, too - "Cut your losses." "Live to fight another day." And so on. Fighting for an impossible outcome, or clinging to a doomed relationship, or pursuing goals without the resources to achieve them - these are examples of times when it is best to quit trying.
These two "virtuous concepts" have guided me my entire life. It is humbling to realize that the organizing principals of my life may be fatally flawed.