Heal the family first

We are all slowly ceasing to be human beings and becoming human doings.

family tree (photo credit: Norman Rockwell)
family tree
(photo credit: Norman Rockwell)
With the American presidential race already in full swing, I was asked recently if I would host a fundraiser for Rudy Giuliani. His stalwart support for Israel made it easy to say yes, and when he was at our home I tried to impress upon him how, with the focus of the presidential race on terrorism, the economy and health care, somebody had to focus on an even greater national emergency: the utter disintegration of the American family. As we debate the war in Iraq and the possibility of peace, are we really under the impression that children raised in homes where there is so much marital strife will grow up to create a world of harmony? Can there really be shalom in the world if there isn't first shalom in the home? And what are the chances of economic prosperity from a work force that comes home to an environment that is a war zone: Are not domestic disputes also the cause of so much physical illness, where people live with the stress of not feeling cherished and not feeling loved? WHEN IT comes to the family, we tend to focus mostly on the 50-percent divorce rate that has been bandied about for so many years now that it fails to shock. But this is only part of the story. The Washington Post reported in 2003 that one out of three doctor's visits on the part of American women are for treating depression. The men are even more unhappy, with nearly 40 percent reportedly depressed. In Britain the family is not faring much better. Indeed, Britain leads the developed world in out-of-wedlock births, a sign both of a loss of confidence in traditional marriage and a young woman's willingness to cheapen herself for a man who does not even have the decency to make a commitment. In my many years of living in Oxford, I remember seeing the clubs empty out on Saturday nights and the staggering number of drunken young women prepared to dress and behave in the most degrading manner so long as it courted male attention. But such are the consequences for so many otherwise innocent young teenage girls who have broken relationships with their own fathers and, consequently, lack a proper role male model against which the worthiness of a boyfriend could be determined. HEREIN LIES the answer to the great mystery of Western living, namely, how can the most prosperous society in human history produce people who are so profoundly unhappy? Well, it's simple. People are happiest when they feel validated, appreciated and loved. Conversely, they are miserable when they feel judged, evaluated and rated as to their innate worth. Family is the place where we are loved unconditionally for who we are. But the office or the university is where we are measured for what we do. As Western society moves further away from the home and more toward the office, as we value professional careers over personal commitments, we are all slowly ceasing to be human beings and becoming instead human doings. We are appreciated not for our personal value, but for our production value. We are loved not for our hearts, but for our hands. There are consequences for a society whose individuals are judged by the quantity in their bank accounts rather than the quality of their relationships. There are repercussions for making money rather than virtue the currency by which we purchase self-esteem. The first casualty is human dignity. The second, human happiness. And the third, human cohesiveness. NOTICE HOW even the most successful people in our societies still feel like failures. In America, Donald Trump is the paragon of the billionaire businessman who is also a shallow braggart, which indicates that he suffers from low self-esteem. In Israel, president Moshe Katsav allegedly told the woman who is his accuser that he was both lonely and unhappy. And this while being a head of state! Bill Clinton seems to have succumbed to the same loneliness even while president. Women fare no better. To be a woman today in Western society is to feel permanently inadequate. You are never blonde enough, never young enough, and certainly never thin enough. There is a road back. It involves resuscitating the dying family and giving both children and adults a loving environment wherein to experience unconditional acceptance. But the more our political leaders talk about the economy more than the family, the worse the situation will become. TO GIULIANI'S immense credit, his campaign people called me back a few days later and told me they were seriously considering the creation of a think tank of experts to advise the campaign on legislation that can help families. Did I have any ideas? I started with a single suggestion: Make marital counseling tax-deductible. I have seen way too many divorced couples who could have kept their families intact had they simply been able to afford trusted professional guidance. We already make charitable contributions tax deductible; as the saying goes, charity should begin at home. And on that note, so should everything else. The writer, a rabbi, hosts the television program "Shalom in the Home," and is author, most recently, of a book by the same title (www.shmuley.com).