Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Call Me Selfish

It's already all on the table how I feel about group dynamics. I believe people are at their best in small groups and when they sit in the silence of their own thoughts. I believe we have begun to confuse mere groups with "community."

I used to sit idly by when people referred to their "work family." I might have used the expression myself to refer to groups to which I belonged and to whose members I felt close. But -- what a horrible metaphor. No mere organizational group can ever approach the family level. To imply that is the steal the profundity from what family really is. (Not that many truly understand that anymore.)

The more family declines, the more people seem to be reaching for pale imitations of what family used to be (and of what, if I am being fair, a precious few still are). No matter what happens, teams will never be families; work shift members and colleagues will never be family. Not even close.

The little girl in the middle gets it. 
Perhaps there are circumstances in which people can develop connections that are equally profound (warriors who stand side-by-side in battle, for instance) but it simply is not the same thing as family. A bond brought about by trauma and death and sacrifice might be deep, but it is, in fact, different.

(This all reminds me very much of my problem with using the word "art" as a compliment. Great pitching, for example, simply is not "an art." It's equally as cool as a great painting, maybe, but it just is not the same thing.)

The worst thing about this equating of the group with family is that, in work, for instance, the group takes on an artificial sense of importance in the minds of its members. As a result, the members often develope the audacity to question the individuals' choices when it comes to their own real families.

My wife just shared an article written by a former editor (a woman) who regrets having questioned the commitment of mothers who worked under her. In one example, she says:

"I secretly rolled my eyes at a mother who couldn’t make it to last minute drinks with me and my team. I questioned her 'commitment' even though she arrived two hours earlier to work than me and my hungover colleagues the next day."

Kudos to her for regretting this, but...over-dedication to the group results in this kind of thinking, I think. How dare anyone judge someone for putting her family first? In this case, it's a kind of madness that the writer eventually got over, thank goodness.

I work hard. I dedicate myself to teaching and to running the academic program at a school. But when the day is over, it's time for family. All too often, that time is interrupted by necessities, so to willingly sacrifice what time I do get is foolhardy. So, no, drinks after work are not on my dance card. (Not always; I'm not referring to the occasional one-and-done beer. But I sure don't see it as an obligation, the way the writer above seemed to.) 

What "community" enthusiasts have to understand is that one can be dedicated to work while, at the same time, not making it his number one priority. There is a lot of lip-service to the importance of family, but, in the end, not a lot of true follow-through, that I see. The father or mother who "works hard" so that he or she can "give the family things" is guilty of this. Providing for them is one thing; working to provide them with the superficial is a big mistake. 

If all you leave your kids to say at your eulogy is that "my dad worked really hard," you screwed up. 

But, I'll tell you -- nobody ought to ever tell me my choice of family over work is a sign of a lack of dedication. It would turn out badly. Where I work -- it's not my family. It's a great school filled with talented, good-hearted people and -- more impressively than anything -- wonderful young people who give me hope for the future. But all of it is worth much less than a walk in the woods with one of my sons or a quiet dinner with my wife. Or, even a cuddle with my dog. 

Call me selfish. 

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