Monday, June 25, 2012

Why Don't We Expect Our Leaders to Prioritize Their Own Families?

'successful business woman on a laptop' photo (c) 2007, Search Engine People Blog - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/A lot of folks in the blogosphere have been reading and commenting on the recent cover story from The Atlantic, "Why Women Still Can't Have It All," by former State Department director of policy planning Anne-Marie Slaughter, and I'm no doubt a bit behind the curve by having only taken the time to read it this past weekend. I was a bit concerned by the title, which conjured up messages I've heard all too often from evangelical leaders: "Women suffer when they abandon their God-given role of wife and housewife to seek other kinds of employment." I'm going to take it for granted that readers understand that I don't buy into that position. The point here is that I've heard statements quite similar to that repeated off and on through the years, and that I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was not Slaughter's position at all. Rather, she writes an honest account of the difficulties facing women in the workplace today while advocating for the kinds of fundamental changes that must take place before the situation can improve the way she (and those who agree with her basic position, including myself) believes that they can indeed improve over time.

I was particularly intrigued by a particular section near the middle of the article, where Slaughter recognizes a double-standard that exists in many parts of our society: women are often encouraged to consider attention to domestic family concerns their highest priority while men are often praised for sacrificing family concerns for some "higher" good.
At the diplomat Richard Holbrooke’s memorial service, one of his sons told the audience that when he was a child, his father was often gone, not around to teach him to throw a ball or to watch his games. But as he grew older, he said, he realized that Holbrooke’s absence was the price of saving people around the world—a price worth paying.
Contrary to what one might expect out of a "liberal" leader within the Obama administration (and specifically the Hillary Clinton-run State Department) Slaughter's concern is not to suggest that women should give their careers higher priority than their families, as men are praised for doing. Far from it! However, she does question the fact that men are praised for making such choices:
It is not clear to me that this ethical framework makes sense for society. Why should we want leaders who fall short on personal responsibilities? Perhaps leaders who invested time in their own families would be more keenly aware of the toll their public choices—on issues from war to welfare—take on private lives. (Kati Marton, Holbrooke’s widow and a noted author, says that although Holbrooke adored his children, he came to appreciate the full importance of family only in his 50s, at which point he became a very present parent and grandparent, while continuing to pursue an extraordinary public career.) Regardless, it is clear which set of choices society values more today. Workers who put their careers first are typically rewarded; workers who choose their families are overlooked, disbelieved, or accused of unprofessionalism.
I'm inclined to think that the apostle Paul would have agreed with Slaughter on this point. Consider, for example, this passage of 1 Timothy, chapter 3 (NIV):
Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)
This passage is sometimes called a "clobber passage" because of the way that Paul uses male-specific language when mentioning qualifications for church leadership. While I would be remiss if I failed to point out that he doesn't actually say anything against women in these verses, I'm actually not quoting this passage to take on the issue of women in church office at the moment. Rather, I'm trying to point out that Paul expects leaders to attend to their families. While it is true that he is speaking specifically about leaders in the church in this passage, at least some of this logic would apply to secular leaders, as well. Why do we fail to put a higher value on allowing our leaders the time necessary to give quality time to their children? This is hardly a concern that is specific only to women. Even if Paul is speaking only to males as would-be leaders here, he is certainly telling those males that they should be giving sufficient time to making sure that there families are okay before trying to lead in other areas.

To some degree, this kind of thing will only change as leaders decide to get their own priorities in order. However, there is a large measure of influence to be wielded by society as a whole, as well. When and if we learn that a leader has made family sacrifices to do his or her job better, we should not praise that person for having made that "sacrifice," but rather we should hold them to a higher standard. If they aren't attending to their families well, are they really leading in the ways that we need in the first place?

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