Greetings Gentle Reader,

Rabbi Boteach, who teaches at Oxford University in Cambridge, England, asked his students if any of them would like to be President of the U.S.A. They ALL wanted to be President. Then, he told them that he had no desire to become President, rather, he would like to be the man to whom the President turns when he needs advice. They were surprised, because today's students are taught that cream rises, and, if you don't rise to the top, you are not the cream. (I'm not sure what that makes you, skim milk, I guess.) The Rabbi's message is that facilitators, those who forward the fortunes of others, at the apparent expense of their own, are accorded little value in today's world, because they have no ambition to be top dog.

This "rising to the top" can have disturbing ramifications. For one thing, we have discarded our supposedly outmoded value system and become a society that measures human worth in fortune and/or fame. The most depraved of humans now enjoys extreme adulation, if he is a famous star. His followers require neither integrity nor human decency; their only demand is that they be allowed to worship him; worse, in the minds of many of his devotees, his status is sufficient to acquit him of the most reprehensible wrongdoing.

Within the family, there are tragic and far-reaching consequences to what Professor Boteach calls the "nadir of the facilitator:" When careers are actively pursued by both parents, there is, too often, a shipwreck on the horizon, because no ship can remain afloat when it has to answer to two captains. In real life, someone has to play the part of executive officer, but our modern teachings forbid such a role and demand the presence of two captains, with no executive officer. Too many of our teachers are convinced there is no other way that a wife can enjoy equal status with her husband, and they make very sure their students learn this lesson, false though it is. Though this pattern has been aggressively presented as a desirable family structure in almost every American institution of higher learning, our divorce statistics reflect its abysmal failure.

When we were kids, everyone wanted to be captain of the team, because, if our team won, we were sure the captain would be the one to get the glory, and kids like glory. Okay, but we were kids back then; we were supposed to be dumb!! Kids have an intrinsic right to be dumb; they have no experience, no maturity and precious little deductive reasoning, but, by the time those kids have become old enough to get married and produce a family, they should have outgrown such childish "me first!" behavior. Unfortunately, the higher the level of a mother's education, the more pressure she experiences to embrace, rather than discard, " me first!" behavior. She is, too often, the target of accusations that she is wasting her education on motherhood.

Many women are persuaded that they must pursue a career in case their marriage fails, and they are left to support their children. In today's society, the fear is logical, but this thinking pattern tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. By stressing their marriage to the breaking point, they are dramatically increasing the chance that they will subject both themselves and their children to the very circumstance for which they are apprehensively preparing.

In order to be fully successful, most careers absorb the time and effort of more than one person. Someone has to be on the front line, and another someone has to be available in a support capacity. But when there are two careers in one family, no one is left to play the part of support officer, because each of the parents is vying for the position of captain.

Another casualty of the two-career family is communication time for the husband and wife: Pop comes home from work, and Mom has already left to go to work. Mom comes home, and Pop is sound asleep. Pop wakes up next morning, but Mom is groggy and uncommunicative. Pop has the weekend free, but Mom's days off are Wednesday and Thursday. Neither parent receives their MDR (minimum daily requirement) of emotional nourishment under such stressful circumstances. By the time complete emotional exhaustion sets in, the marriage has often reached a state of terminal deterioration.

Common sense tells us that the family and marriage suffer terribly when both parents are working in " top dog " positions, and, yet, the forces that keep a mother in the workplace are very compelling. For instance, the pressure to retain a satisfactory insurance package can be a deciding factor in a women's decision. Just one member's serious accident can throw a family into a devastating state of bankruptcy, from which they may be unable to extricate themselves.

There are no simple answers; it would be much nicer if there were. Sometimes, we must make value decisions, and, in today's complex world, the temptation to undervalue our spouse's and children's welfare is overwhelming. After all, how do you enter damage sustained by a child, a spouse or a marriage on a balance sheet? It can't be done; and, when an indeterminable factor (damage to the family ) must hold its own against a readily determinable factor (simple dollars and cents ), the children, the spouse and the marriage often come second. So, Mom goes back to work, and the chips fall where they will.

There is overwhelming evidence that there has been very real, very critical damage done to our society by our willingness to devalue the worth of what Rabbi Boteach calls the facilitator, those who choose to defer to, rather than compete with, a spouse.

Our grandparents knew that a team of horses was worthless, unless they could be trained to pull the same way. Perhaps, we would be wiser, if we applied that very basic, very simple reality to our calculations, when faced with these difficult decisions.

Return to the Neighborhood.

Until next time,

Muriel Sluyter


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