Don’t Hit Your Son

Hang around Maestro-level leaders for a while, and you'll hear someone talking about future value. Hang around a little longer, and it will become clear that future value means a world in which our grandchildren's grandchildren want to live. In the world where I live and the mindset of my culture, if I want my grandchildren's descendants to be able to face their world with hope, it starts with me not striking my son and not shouting at colleagues or employees.

That is not the historical perspective, however. The authority of life and death over one's children used to rest in the parent's hands and still does in some places. Same with the worker -- especially if indentured or enslaved.

Ancient wisdom offers insightful words such as what a father might say to his son: "My son, do not curse the day unless you have seen the night" (Ahiqar II, 96). Ahiqar's wisdom also admonishes parents to take responsibility for the education and formation of their children. Still, that same Bronze Age wisdom permits parents to stone their children to death if they determine they are rebellious and not worth teaching.

The modern mindset under which we live believes we have softened these harsh ways. We are deeply appalled by both the ancient approach and its modern expression. We think it is unwise to strike a child at all. We ask, why would losing one's temper be the long-term approach to building a productive work culture? And yet, in our no longer wanting to be harsh, we shift disciplining authority elsewhere--often to governmental or professional roles. We pay professionals to do the work of formation and meting out justice, so we don't have to.

We expect these professionals, teachers, and police people, for example, to function like household appliances, automatically taking care of tasks we prefer not to have to do ourselves. They do the work of forming humans and keeping the peace or administrating justice so that they are out of our sight and, therefore, out of our minds.

Can we genuinely say ours has been a wise approach--with teachers quitting after just a couple of years and police departments across the US experiencing significant and deserved scrutiny? Parents might not be executing their children, but children and youth continue to take their own lives out of the hopelessness they feel, or they take easy to procure guns to schools and malls to take the lives of others, or they lose their lives to gang or police violence. Clearly, there is more wisdom for us to gain and more work to do in building hope for future generations.

I may not believe I should strike my son to form his character, but my responsibility to help develop his character and the character of the village where he will live remains. Similarly, suppose I sit in the driver's seat of an enterprise. In that case, I cannot expect those I employ to come fully formed or solely responsible for their flourishing, which they should do miraculously on their own time. 

Together, one's childhood combines with one's adult employment years to form the largest single block of time in human experience. We cannot expect the formation of one's character and sense of well-being to occur elsewhere. And, given the long-term deterioration of being civil in civic and marketplace spaces, we are ridiculous to think that someone comes to us completely packaged and ready to be put to long-term and productive work they will always enjoy. A hopeful and flourishing human is the root cause of productive work that produces future value. The investment into hopeful flourishing is not an inconvenience to offload to others. Instead, it is our civic and shared responsibility.

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- Mark L. Vincent


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About The Third Turn Podcast & Maestro-level leaders:

With each episode of the Third Turn Podcast, we host a conversation among leaders who want the world to flourish for generations beyond their lifetimes.

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The Third Turn Podcast is part of the Maestro-level leaders initiative, a production of Design Group International. Strategically Connected's Jennifer Miller is the producer.

Mark L. Vincent
Post by Mark L. Vincent
April 4, 2023
I walk alongside leaders, listening to understand their challenges, and helping them lead healthy organizations that flourish.