Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Brazos Press; (November 2003)

 Excerpt from Part One: What Does It Profit? Wanting More From Life Than A Paycheck

Autobiographical Prelude: 

Of Kids, Careers, and Craziness

In my first twenty years of motherhood, I tried every trick in the book. I worked full time as an English professor. I was home full time as the flummoxed mother of twin newborns and a child barely two years old--all three of them dangerously prone to pneumonia, bronchitis, and asthma attacks. Later, as a freelance editor and writer, I tried every arrangement from part-time to overtime. I worked from a home office; I worked from a "real" office; I worked on a lapboard in the car at the sidelines of soccer practice. There were good times, and there were bad times; but there was never any time I'd label "happily ever after." As far as I can see, there is no one best way to balance earning a living with having a life.

Furthermore, every option I tried succeeded or failed in its own way. The success of what succeeded--the failure of what failed-- were visibly rooted in the quirky variables of my own household. What worked and what didn't reflected our mix of personalities. It reflected the kinds of stress I can cope with and the kinds of stress that drive me crazy, what we could do without as a family and what proved essential.

Worse yet, even good solutions did not last. Like all kids, ours were on a relentless, helter-skelter developmental path: they kept changing. And so did my husband and I. Growth and change are part of what it means to be human. (That's a polite way to say that as fast as we figured out one stage, we found ourselves lost inside the next one.) Even if we could stand still developmentally--impossible though that would be--work and school present a fluid, evolving set of challenges. As the novelist Anne Tyler laments in her hilarious essay "Still Just Writing," a cousin has a baby, somebody dies, the dog gets sick, a kid comes down with appendicitis, spring break happens, and afterwards the garage erupts into disorder that has to be put to rights. Something or other is always going on in our lives, something exceptional, some crisis large or small. 1

Bit by bit, I realized that such exceptions to the ordinary week are themselves the rule. The "ordinary week" is a rare and no doubt endangered creature, as elusive as the Loch Ness Monster or the Abominable Snowman. People glimpse one from time to time, but only through fog or after too much to drink. There's a "Calvin and Hobbes" cartoon that I dearly love: the father, sitting up in bed at night, thinking aloud to his wife, observes that if he had known that adults were simply ad-libbing their parts, he would not have been in such a hurry to grow up.

Adulthood is an ad-lib routine, an endless improv exercise. We are not exactly faking it, but neither is life a settled script with an unchanging cast of characters and a single well-unified plot. Still, when screwball week followed screwball week, I felt at times that I was just faking it. I'm a highly-trained rationalist sort: I wanted my life to make sense. At the core of my struggles was some black hole of incoherence. Something just didn't add up, but I was too busy coping to figure out what it was. In the middle of the night, however, I would sometimes awaken. I'd lie awake awhile, listening to the furnace cycle on and off, listening to my husband breathing. I would wonder why ordinary life sometimes felt like more than I could manage. I work hard; by all accounts I'm reasonably capable. "Kids plus careers is craziness," I thought to myself. I felt trapped inside a formula whose only solution was insanity. Would my "room of one's own" turn into a padded cell?

The more I tried to do it all--to keep my career moving, to pay attention to the kids, to enjoy my friends and extended family, to take time for the new neighbors or the elderly couple next door--the harder I tried simply to be a decent human being in all of life's activities and relationships, the more I found myself at odds with myself. On bad days or dark nights, life felt like a zero-sum game whose final outcome was failure.

But I was not failing. I was facing reality, up close and first hand. When I was a child, I thought it was possible to do what I ought to do. I thought the world was an essentially reasonable place in which ability, responsibility, resources, and power all comported themselves in harmonious ways. If I was supposed to make my bed and practice my spelling list and set the table for dinner, that's because it was possible for me not only to do each of these things but also to do all of them--every day. Alas, adult life is more complicated than that. Adults are endlessly handed responsibilities without commensurate power, authority, or insight. Becoming an adult and a mother would have been a whole lot easier if, at the same time, I had become a god. But that's not how it works.

Parenthood often felt a lot like juggling cinder blocks. Life was good in the intervals between eruptions of ordinary chaos, but if I dropped anything, if I was distracted and lost rhythm even for a minute, cinder blocks kept falling on my head. Then I had to dodge with the reflexes of a Zen Master; and with the resolute patience of a Benedictine monk, I had to pick up and begin anew. The first time I read the famous Rule of Benedict, outlining the pattern of life in sixth-century monasteries, my overwhelming impression was that St. Benedict was trying to create for monks the endless disruptions that parents face. Monks haul themselves out of warm beds to pray and chant psalms together at three a.m.--when other people are up feeding infants, consoling toddlers, or arguing with teenagers. One way or the other, on mountaintop monasteries or here in the suburbs with three kids and a rusty minivan, the good life seemed to demand an uncommonly high measure of moral fortitude.

Oh. Something in me muttered quietly. Hmmm.

"What!?" I answered, annoyed. "What?" But it was just a muttering, nothing more, a muttering silence that settled into some remote corner of my mind and commenced building a nest, like mice in the attic. I caught sounds of it, rustling and scurrying about, as I did some historical background research for a book I wrote about how parents might explain and defend the idea of sexual fidelity to their kids. So when that book was finished, when the interviews and travel and book-signings died down, I got myself something like a ladder, and something like a flashlight, and I went searching for that nest and its scurrying, muttering inhabitants. I went back to the historical issues around which the muttering seemed to be centered. And that was the origin of this book: I needed to get a clear look at questions that had been loose in my head for years.

What I was up against, lying awake in the dark in the middle of the night, was that virtues such as compassion, commitment, and fidelity have been marginalized by a combination of historical and cultural developments in the last five hundred years. Our inherited beliefs and patterns of learned behavior have shifted in response to historical events such as the growth of cities, the rise of industrial capitalism, and the development of liberal democracy.

These changes wrought a paradigm shift in Western social ethics: competitive self-seeking has displaced generous compassion as the ostensible norm of ordinary adult behavior. That's the story that this book tells. This book describes both the cultural history and the ethical complexity of earning a living and having a life. Everybody knows that cultural context matters. Everybody knows that what we feel and how we think are deeply influenced by the historical past and the cultural present. But understanding that we are shaped by history does not explain how history comes to bear when we try to think through a complicated issue. As I will show, historical pressures come to bear upon us through buried metaphors that interlock in ways that can leave us feeling trapped, tired, and too often frustrated.

And so, this is a book for people who want to think through the big questions for themselves. This is a book for people who wonder why work-life problems set everyone's teeth on edge. Why is it that anger, frustration, and guilt all glitter in people's eyes whenever the issue comes up? Over the years of work behind a book like this one, people have often asked me what I'm writing about. When I say "the conflict between earning a living and having a life," they react immediately. For one brief, vulnerable moment, their faces sag. Shoulders droop with exhaustion. I've been astounded by how universal that response is: obviously I am not the only person who sometimes lies awake at night, listening to the furnace hum. This is a book for people who have had their fill of feeling haunted and guilty about too many demands, too little time, and not much that counts as genuine satisfaction or peace of mind.

I have no magic wand. I don't have a stunning new policy proposal, complete with painless financing. But I certainly can shine a good light upon the nests of unexamined assumptions and hidden metaphors that drive most of us crazy. What you do from there is up to your own good conscience, your own courage, and the practical constraints of your own situation.

But at least you will understand what you are up against, and why, and what's at stake. That's the first step toward individual integrity and away from the bleak depths of feeling haunted and guilty.

Chapter One:
How Competition Has Replaced Compassion in American Culture

The conflict between life and work is a spiritual predicament, perhaps the spiritual predicament of our times for anyone who wants more from life than a paycheck. Coping with that predicament brings us face to face with life's big questions. These are the kinds of questions that define the core of anyone's spiritual orientation. These are the questions that haunt us when tragedy strikes, when problems overwhelm us, when we find ourselves hopelessly wide awake in the middle of the night. What does it mean to be human? Does life--your life, my life--have purpose and meaning? Or are we merely the by-products of DNA seeking molecular immortality? When push comes to shove, what matters most in life? And why? Whom do you trust, for whom do you care, for what will you sacrifice? To whom or what, if anything, are you accountable for the decisions that you make?

Work-life conflicts corrode our souls, I propose, because our cultural moment is shaped by utterly inhuman answers to our ultimate questions. The "spirituality" of the 24/7 global marketplace goes like this:

He who dies with the most toys wins.
Look out for #1.
Nobody gives a damn: remember that!
Get the most, give the least.
The bottom line is the top priority.

No wonder work-life questions drive us crazy. There is no other sane response. As one theologian puts it, "market ideology has become our way of life, almost our religion, telling us who we are (consumers) and what is the goal of life (making money)." 2

In what follows I offer a close look at the spiritual poverty and the sociocultural contradictions of these distorted, commonplace, often unconscious assumptions about what it means to be human. These assumptions have evolved rapidly under the combined pressures of capitalism, modernity, and post-industrial urban design. We need to take notice, because if we notice we are apt to disagree. And if we understand why we disagree, then surely it will be easier to disregard the ongoing pressure that these invisible presuppositions and hidden persuaders generate in our lives. Ultimately, we are up against cultural pressures unrelentingly focused upon free-market competition and consumption, as if the meaning of life is Compete, Consume, and Die.

Although we struggle to lead lives based on rich, generous, compassionate human relationships, we live in a culture shaped by a radical individualism that is inimical to relationships. We struggle to lead lives based on responsibility and mature self-sacrifice in a culture shaped by ruthless ambition and consumerist self-gratification. Above all, we struggle to survive as people in a world in which employees are too often regarded as commodities. We need to protect our own essential humanity if we are to meet the needs and respect the humanity of those who depend upon us, but we live in a culture that structurally ignores or denies the full scope of what it means to be human.

We are at stake. Our sanity and the meanings of our lives are at stake. Also at stake is the rich but fragile cultural heritage that understands how there is more to life than earning a living and greater pleasures than those available for purchase. Compassion--once celebrated both East and West as the principal virtue of the holy or the enlightened soul--has been reconfigured in practical terms as sentimentality, exploitation, victimhood, and a failure to achieve autonomous self-realization.

To some extent, of course, this has always been the case: to the fool, wisdom seems folly; and popular culture has seldom been shaped by the wise. But our loss of wisdom--our loss of a proper understanding of compassion--has led to the widespread anxiety, frustration, and spiritual emptiness which afflict so many people in our day. We have come up against the edge of William Blake's acerbic aphorism: if the fool would persist in his folly, he would become wise 3. We are situated to become wise, perhaps, because we have become so miserable. What makes us miserable is the idea that most people are out mostly for themselves and for themselves alone. That makes us miserable because reasonable trust is crucial for ordinary human social life, and especially for sophisticated or complicated forms of cooperation. So when compassion is reduced to sentimentality, when trust become naïveté, we are in trouble. All around us, social structures that should support trust and nurture our humanity are instead breaking down and grinding slowly to a halt. Our material prosperity is being hollowed out by a spiritual poverty that leaves us starving.

- The Tinker Man's Endeavor -

When I was a child, we jumped rope to a rhyme that went like this:

Tinker, tinker, tinker man
Sitting on a fence,
Trying to make a dollar
Out of fifteen cents.
He missed! He missed!
He missed like this!

In many ways, parenthood involves a set of propositions only slightly less impossible than the tinker man's endeavor. No matter how adeptly we manage, for most households with small children there's no escape from the hard truth that providing for children financially conflicts with nurturing them personally. Both duties, in equal measure, are an expression of the basic parental instinct and moral obligation to care for one's children. 4 But cutting back on work to see more of our kids is at odds with saving for college. Depending upon circumstances, it may also conflict with living in a good school district. For households headed by single adults, it interferes with buying groceries; and the percentage of single-parent families has increased 190.2% since 1970. 5

Furthermore, according to government statistics, in 1970 the cost of rearing a child to age 18 was 3.6 times the median annual family income. 6 By 1999 (and despite more mothers in the workforce), rearing a child to age 18 cost 5.1 times the median annual family income. Child-rearing has not become that much more expensive. But the purchasing power of the median income has declined, and so has the relative value of the IRS standard deduction for dependents. That's a huge double whammy: median income households are endlessly struggling to make a dollar out of fifteen cents, and so of course there are enormous pressures to work longer hours or to take a second job. Keep in mind, if you will, that the "costs of child-rearing to age 18" does not include college tuition, which for many years has been rising exponentially faster than the cost of living. For instance, one of my three undergraduate children has seen tuition increases of 42% over three years; another faces of increases of 18% next year alone. In January of 2003, the board of the State University of New York recommended tuition increases of 41 percent in a single year.

But longer working hours to cope with rising costs is not a simple solution. Long working hours generate socio-cultural problems of many kinds. Psychologists and pediatricians argue that an insufficient measure of lively, loving, consistent, secure personal attention wreaks havoc with the developmental path of a young child. Laurence Steinberg and his colleagues argue that teenagers are also dependent upon generous measure of strong, consistent parental attention. 7 Both parents can be employed full time and remain richly engaged with their older children and teenagers, but that remains quite an achievement. Unless the parents have either very high income or heroic levels of energy and devotion, long working hours are going to collide with the demands of active parenthood. As sociologist Arlie Hochschild documents, many households suffer deeply when parents prove to be mere mortals, exhausted and frazzled and coping endlessly with chaos. 8

But part-time work pays poorly and never offers benefits. Furthermore, as plenty of us have discovered first-hand, most professional careers are all-or-nothing deals. "Sequencing" is great in theory: parents should cut back their hours or one partner should take a few years off altogether so as to provide children with the personal attention they need. But it can wreak havoc with one's career. Economist Lester Thurow explains this quite adeptly: "The decade between age 25 and 35 is when all lawyers become partners in the good firms, when business managers make it onto the 'fast track,' when academics gets tenure at good universities, and when blue collar workers find the training opportunities and the skills that will generate high earnings. . . . [This is also] precisely the decade when women are most apt to leave the labor force or become part-time workers to have children. When they do, the current system of promotion and skill acquisition will extract an enormous lifetime price." 9 As Kathleen Hall Jamieson argues in Beyond the Double Bind: Women and Leadership, "Sequencing carries a cost to one's career. Unless women can translate time spent rearing children into an asset in the public sphere, sequencing means that women of a given age will have less professional experience than men of the same age." 10

The differential in professional experience and work hours is usually cited as one central reason for persistent differentials in income between men and women. For instance, median income for women with a bachelor's degree is $28,594; for men, it's $47,325. For women with a doctorate, median income is $46,499; for men, it's $70,452. 11 That is, women with a Ph.D. earn less than men with a B.A. In The Price of Motherhood, journalist Ann Crittenden argues that, for a college-educated woman who seriously compromises her career for the sake of her children, the lifetime cost of motherhood can easily add up to $1 million dollars. 12 She summarizes work by economist Jane Waldfogel: "By 1991, thirty-year old women without children were making 90 percent of men's wages, while comparable women with children were making only 70 percent." 13 Such grim numbers testify vividly to the burdens families carry because there is inadequate public-policy support for the needs of children. 14

In short, parents face very bitter choices anywhere they look. So does anyone else who accepts responsibilities for the well-being of other people. Furthermore, our personal responsibilities to our families, friends, and neighbors can be at odds with our professional responsibilities to clients, colleagues, customers, students, patients, etc. We are all actively responsible for the common good in a world that needs the full measure of talent and hard work from every single one of us. Even after the kids are raised and gone, these conflicting responsibilities continue unabated. The conflicts parents encounter as parents everyone else encounters in other ways and for other reasons. Taking time off to "have a life" is penalized, no matter what the reason why.

Work-life conflict is part of the human predicament: fifteen cents will never make a dollar, and no measure of managerial skill can add two minutes to the span of twenty-four hours. We are finite creatures living within the constraints of culture, material reality, and personal mortality. Adept, aggressive management will never rescue anyone from pain, sacrifice, and suffering, nor will consumerist self-indulgence console us. The good life is grounded in good conscience and practical wisdom, both of which require hard-nosed, honest insight into the hidden persuaders of our own cultural moment.

- Who Cares -

The 24/7 demands of the post-industrial, post-modern global economy have escalated the human predicament into a crisis. Robert Reich, former Secretary of Commerce under President Clinton, argues that the tremendous competitive pressures of our economy necessarily generate longer hours, higher productivity demands, and what have come to be called "pre-emptive" layoffs. As Joanna Ciulla explores in The Working Life: The Promise and Betrayal of Modern Work, this situation has led to a generalized decay in the implicit social contract between employers and employees. 15 As a result, the threat of unemployment enforces the demand for longer hours and greater productivity. Work consumes ever more of our physical and psychological energy. It is a struggle to balance earning a living with having a life in responsible and soul-satisfying ways, because employers are not held accountable for the social-capital costs of their demands upon us.

A century or more ago, companies were not held accountable for the pollution they produced. In the nineteenth century, it was commonly assumed that the natural environment has an unlimited capacity to absorb and to neutralize dangerous industrial toxins. For most of the twentieth century, it was thought that the social and cultural environment had a similarly limitless carrying capacity. The waters of care, so to speak, were thought deep enough and wide enough to "dilute" the impact of any particular set of individuals who work such long hours under such pressure that their caring relationships are cut short. But like small towns poisoned by chemical plants, we are helpless in the face of unregulated socioeconomic power. That power now has global scope.

These economic pressures have led to a systemic collapse in our national capacity to provide the care that is so vitally important both to the national interest and to the common good. 16 This collapse has had devastating consequences. As so many experts in so many different fields have argued, our society is increasingly inimical to its own children 17 --and, I would add, to anyone else who cannot survive or flourish in utterly self-sufficient isolation, and to those who cannot afford the economic consequences of their own willingness to care about people in need.

Economist Nancy Folbre puts it well: "Just like people, corporations dream of an island paradise where they can get away from it all. Globalization is increasing the intensity of competition among countries, as well as among firms. Both immigration and capital mobility allow employers to free-ride on the contributions of parents, friends and neighbors. If they're not willing to pay, they should be kicked off the bus." 18

But "willing to pay" is a slippery concept. As economist Charles Lindblom argues in The Market System: What It Is, How It Works, and What to Make of It, the market is "a system of society-wide coordination of human activities not by central command but by mutual interactions in the form of transactions." We can have such "coordination without a coordinator" because influence can be mutual, not top-down. But top-down is how the West has always imagined that order operates, and that presumption certainly informs the kind of sociological analysis that endlessly expects salvation to be announced from inside the Beltway.

As Lindblom explains, "Perhaps the philosophers could not imagine controls exercised in any patterns other than unilateral and hierarchical. Nor, considering their own favored positions in society, would they regard that as an attractive possibility. I suggest that, as a consequence, the study of order or coordination became in large part the study of how elites could unilaterally keep the masses under control, and how they could justify their doing so." 19 Elite policy analysts, like the classic political philosophers, do seem to imagine that they could move the world if only they could find a place to wedge their levers. I doubt that's the case.

Good policies will certainly help the current situation, because isolated individuals have so little leverage within these "mutual interactions." But policy alone will not rescue us from the conflict between earning a living and having a life unless we are prepared to face the hard choices and to make the hard decisions about which negative outcomes we are willing to risk. As sociologist Philip Rieff argues, to make these hard choices we probably need the support of a positive community--the support of friends who think as we think, who value what we value, who have seen through the seductive salvation available at the mall. 20

No matter what, marginalizing compassion so as to maximize profits is cultural suicide acted out in slow motion over several generations. Escalating rates of serious dysfunction among older children and teenagers--suicide, homicide, drug abuse, deteriorating academic achievement--suggest that the process is well under way. We cannot afford to neglect the children who are this nation's future, nor the financial security of the families upon whom these children depend.

Despite the deep anxieties of our day, sooner or later we will realize that the "war on terror," like the "cold war" before it, is a chronic condition. It has no foreseeable conclusion. Security needs and costs must be assessed not in the immediate panic following some crisis, but with sober confidence that we can both protect and nurture this nation--including its children. No matter what battles we may win in this "war on terror," we will lose in the end if we are so obsessed by our fears that we fail to recognize that global markets and international corporations also pose a hidden, systemic threat to the American national interest. Profits, not America's culture and its people, are all that interest them. That's marketplace reality.

Not every toxic threat is chemical, after all. Some toxins are cultural. Cultural pressures are both complex and subtle, as we will see in the chapters ahead. That's because cultural change is also an inexorable process of mutual adjustment and coordination without a coordinator. We must be awake and vigilant to culture based threats that arise not in distant, exotic lands but right here on the landscape of ordinary Protestant America in its more-or-less secularized contemporary form.

As private individuals, all we can do is cope as well as we can with the toxic environment we face. In a vicious downward spiral, however, the crisis in care puts even greater pressure upon individual households, whose thin resources are thus spread even more thinly. At work we face the demand for more work; at home, we face escalating demands for care from all those who depend upon us, not just children. We all know how often people need help after hospitalizations or outpatient surgery. But we also understand what happens in an overworked organization when somebody doesn't show up for work. These are not isolated difficulties: one household in four is caring for a friend or family member who is over age fifty, and two-thirds of the disabled elderly live at home or with relatives. 21 Good people--friends, neighbors, kinfolks--will want to do whatever they can to help, but what they can do is sharply constrained by what their employers insist they must do, no matter what. No wonder divorce rates are up, and the measures of well-being (especially among children and adolescents) have taken such a nosedive.

In The War Against Parents, Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Cornel West conclude that "our laws and policies concerning family tell a story that is extraordinarily destructive of the art and practice of parenting." 22 It is no less destructive of the art and the practice of neighborly compassion generally. We are destroying our own social and psychological traditions of sustained, mutual, caring human relationship. After the big auditing scandals, that's a trend even the media are tracking: Time magazine's cover for January 28, 2002 announced, "So many choices, and no one to trust. In today's world, You Are On Your Own, Baby." In January 2003, Atlantic Monthly's "The Real State of the Union" issue documented plummeting levels of willingness to trust other people.

Faced with this phalanx of unworkable and interlocked ideologies, popular culture often takes refuge in a vacuous, irresponsible liberalism which insists that every choice every person makes, every opinion every person may hold, is just as good as every other. But some people do make a mess of things, a mess that better judgment could have avoided. Everyone around them suffers. Nonetheless, I contend, each of us remain inescapably responsible for making the choices and resolving the conflicting moral obligations that shape our own lives. Whether or not we are parents, we cannot write off the demands of living in good conscience.

Neither can we insist that someone else sign over his or her conscience to our own imperial authority--or to anyone's Enlightenment pretensions to have absolute certainty about anything. Nel Noddlings explains this issue with particular skill: "One of the most objectionable features of liberalism, according to postmodern critiques, is its assumption of universality. Because rationality--the exercise of reason--is taken as the basic distinguishing feature of persons, the one that confers upon us both agency and an innate right to respect, liberal philosophers often suppose that one mind, used well, can legislate for the whole world. For example, Jeremy Bentham, an early utilitarian, allegedly remarked that he could legislate for all of India, and presumably for the whole world, from the privacy of his study. The insistence on universalizability and the power of rational thought to 'get it right' for everyone is central to the liberal tradition." 23 I think there is a considerable middle ground between the authoritarianism of the rationalist Enlightenment position and the "well, whatever" relativity of radical individualist liberalism. That merely reasonable middle ground is the domain of personal integrity and good conscience.

The truth of the matter looks more like this: In any given household, at any given point in time, some choices will be better or wiser or more successful than other choices. Surely that's self-evident. So is its corollary: Especially in the very difficult situations that people now face, the best choices will be made by those who have both good hearts and the widest array of accurate information, including all kinds of data to which only they have full access.

Consider this: no one can buy sneakers for anyone else. Nonetheless, for any given pair of feet, some sneakers fit properly and some don't. Within the domain of "proper fit," there is scope for personal preferences. These variations reflect the remarkable adaptability and resilience of human societies. Such variations also reflect the stunning complexity of the human mind and brain, which is to say dimensions upon dimensions of continuous variables that remain entirely out of reach for any outside observer. Not only is it the case that nobody else knows what your feet feel like. What you know consciously and thus could defend rationally is only a fraction of what your brain is continuously monitoring about your feet, your knees, your hips and lower back, your gait, and so forth. Your end-stage decision--buy these shoes or those shoes?--reflects a summary judgment of data that is both conscious and unconscious.

Surely our lives are far more complicated than our feet. The consequences of work-life "fit" are massive, both for individual households and for the society as a whole, despite the fact that the array of work-life "sizes" at the moment is insanely limited. As serious runners consult with experts on running shoes and orthotics, so serious human beings consult with sages about the meaning of life and the ways of living wisely. (We will return to that point in part six.) The fact remains that our lives, like our feet, assert and reflect a specific, unique, morally-responsible individuality. That's a Christian (and Jewish) teaching, I should point out; but it has been widely assimilated into the secular culture of the West. Part of that assimilation has been blunting the sharp edges of moral accountability into a hopelessly blurry normative nihilism, into a "well, whatever..." approach to our responsibility to seek the good and to avoid evil.

Between "well, whatever..." and rigid authoritarianism of both the religious and economic fundamentalists, there is an enormous middle ground acknowledging that we are all ultimately accountable to the demands of our own well-formed conscience. All of us have a profound moral responsibility both to parents and to the next generation. Parents in turn have a profound moral responsibility to their own children, even if the part parents play in child development is but a human part. Limited consequences, contingent causes, continuous variables, moral ambiguity, and spiritual mystery are among the defining features of the human condition and the due exercise human responsibility for one another, whether in the household or in the halls of Congress. As Churchill said of Chamberlain, only good conscience can guide anyone safely and honorably through thickets like these.

We are in this situation, I argue, because the commonplace ideologies of gender roles, "family values" and the marketplace render a false account of our humanity. By "ideology" I refer not to some dark conspiracy advanced by special-interest groups, but rather to the ways in which ideas give rise to political, social, or economic systems. The precept "love your neighbor as yourself" was once the heart of Western social ethics. The ideal was not always observed, of course. But "love your neighbor as yourself" was the official ideal, and behind that ideal stood the cultural and psychological power of the Christian church. In capitalist free markets, however, "love your neighbor as yourself" has been displaced by "get the most for the least." That substitution happens gradually through changes in three densely interwoven ideas that have always shaped Western culture: gender, the family, and the market. In very many ways, I hope to show, these three concepts are among the major "parts of speech" in the spiritual grammar of the West.

Sex, home, and money have always mattered. My Victorian-born grandmothers would have cautioned here that a well-bred person never talks in polite company about sex, money, politics, or religion. Be cautioned, then: this book will talk about all of these things and especially about what happens when you mix them together. In part two of this book, we will take a close look at the history of gender dualism in Western thought. As many historians have explained, this heritage distorts and impoverishes our sense of ourselves as men or as women. More dangerous because more subtle are the ways in which submerged gender-laden metaphors continue to permeate and to distort our critical problem-solving habits.

In part three, we will look at the idea of "Home Sweet Home" through the same mix of historical and psychological lenses. What we cherish as our "private lives" or advocate as "family values" comes under the same relentless, distorting cultural and historical pressure. "Family values" ideology situates the problems of households in one metaphysical category, called "private," and the causes of these problems into a second, radically separate metaphysical category called "public." That's a Catch-22 of catastrophic proportions.

In part four, the focus shifts from the "private" world to the "public" world, to "the marketplace." I hope to unearth the deep, explicitly religious conceptual framework that shapes the way we think about "the market," about our own financial success and security, and about the power of consumerism in contemporary American culture. In the American psyche, "success" has replaced "salvation." As a result, we face enormous but often submerged pressure to decide work-life conflicts in favor of work.

As we will see in part five, the ideologies of gender, "family values" and the marketplace come together to generate the Mommy Wars. Bitter, ongoing debates about daycare are essentially a proxy war for cultural disputes going back centuries. Parents and children alike can be caught in the crossfire.

In most books like this one, the last section offers a set of policy proposals. "The world should be a better place," most books conclude; "and here are some specific suggestions." Most of these suggestions are quite reasonable, but most of them are also quite expensive. Even if we still had the money to pay for such things, all of these proposals run into opposition from policy wonks of different persuasions (see Appendix One). Under any circumstances, change from inside the Beltway won't be implemented in time to make much of a difference for the current crop of babies and parents. In practical terms, all they add up to is "Wait Here for Rescue."

But we can't wait. We have lives to live. We have bills to pay and people who depend upon us. Wait Here for Rescue can be a counsel of despair and passivity for those of us who have very little voice on Capitol Hill. So my concluding section takes a different approach. Part six examines the ancient idea that we are accountable above all to our own good conscience. What, then, does it mean to decide something "in good conscience"? We will take a close look at "discernment," which is an advanced form of spiritual meditation practice in the Christian tradition. Careful discernment does not rescue anyone from the difficulty of adult life, but I think it can contribute quite a bit to (a) sleeping peacefully through the night and (b) not giving way to guilt, frustration, and hostility when cinder blocks keep falling on your head.

- The Power of What's Missing -

Compassion is so far gone from the center of how we think about our society that it is difficult to see what its absence costs us. It costs us a lot, I argue, because no ideology can displace compassion from its place in the depths of our hearts. We face a structural conflict between what we feel in the silence of our souls and how we think we must behave to compete and to survive. Alas, it is remarkably difficult to tell a story about something that is missing. It is difficult to tell the story about what has been marginalized and what has been misunderstood, and to tell that story well enough to make the absent present and its absence felt. And so in the next chapter I want to offer some reflections on the character and the historical-religious stature of the quality we call compassion.

I think it is useful to review the ancient moral and spiritual traditions that offer a different, far older, far more accurate account of what it means to be human and to have a life worth living. But if you want to get right to the cultural history of gender identity, feel free to skip ahead to part two.

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1. Anne Tyler, "Still Just Writing," The Writer on Her Work, vol. 1, ed. Janet Sternberg (New York: W. W. Norton, 1980), pp. 3-16.

2. Sallie McFague, Life Abundant: Rethinking Theology and Economy for a Planet in Peril (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 200l). See also Harvey Cox, "The Market as God," The Atlantic Monthly (March 1999), rpt. in The Best Christian Writing 2000, ed. John Wilson (San Francisco: Harpersanfrancisco, 2000), pp. 79-91.

3. William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, plate 7. Cf. "the fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees" also plate 7, and "if other had not been foolish, we should be so," plate 9.

4. It is undeniably important that full-time nurturing generates less social status for the adult involved than a full-time, fast-track career. But social status does not translate directly into human and moral significance. We will return--repeatedly--to the differentials in status and in sociopolitical power between these two tasks.

5. "Domestic Demographics: 1970 and 1998" Bureau of the Census and the National Center for Health Statistics, cited in Andrew Hacker, "The Case Against Kids," The New York Review of Books, (November 30, 2000), p. 14.

6. Expenditures on Children by Families, Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, U.S. Department of Agriculture, March 2000, cited in Andrew Hacker, "The Case Against Kids," The New York Review of Books, (November 30, 2000), p. 16

7. Laurence Steinberg, Ph.D., B. Bradford Brown, Ph.D., and Sandford M. Dornbusch, Ph.D., Beyond the Classroom: Why School Reform has Failed and What Parents Need to Do (New York: Touchstone Books of Simon and Schuster, 1996), especially chapters six and seven.

8. Arlie Russell Hochschild, The Time Bind: When Work Becomes Home and Home Becomes Work (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1997).

9. Lester Thurow, "62 Cents to the Dollar: The Earnings Gap Doesn't Go Away," Working Mother (October 1984), p. 42; cited in Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Beyond the Double Bind: Women and Leadership (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995, p. 64, p. 224 n. 48.

10. Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Beyond the Double Bind: Women and Leadership (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 64.

11. Statistical Abstracts of the United States: 2001 (Washington D. C.: U.S. Census Bureau, 2001), Table 675, p. 440.

12. Ann Crittenden, The Price of Motherhood: Why The Most Important Job in the World Is the Least Valued (New York: Metropolitan Books of Henry Holt, 200), p. 88 and p. 286 n.2. Crittenden also points out that a woman's contribution to her family does not "count" in the GNP nor toward her own Social Security earnings.

13. Ann Crittenden, The Price of Motherhood, p. 95, p. 288 n. 20, which cites Jane Waldfogel, "Understanding the 'Family Gap' in Pay for Women with Children," Journal of Economic Perspectives, vol. 12, no. 1 (winter 1998): 137-156; and Waldfogel, "The Family Gap for Young Women in the United States and Britain," Journal of Labor Economics, vol. 11 (1998): 505-519.

14. Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Cornel West offer a impressive list of policy failures relative to families: See The War Against Parents: What We Can Do for America's Beleaguered Moms and Dads (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998), p. 94.

15. Joanne B. Ciulla, The Working Life: The Promise and Betrayal of Modern Work (New York: Times Books, Random House, 2000), chapter nine.

16. Mona Harrington, Care and Equality: Inventing a New Family Politics (New York: Routledge, 2000), p. 26.

17. On how this nation has become inimical to its own children--and thus to its own future--see Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Cornel West, The War Against Parents, p. 74; David Popenoe, Life Without Father: Compelling New Evidence That Fatherhood and Marriage Are Indispensable for the Good of Children and Society (New York: Martin Kessler Books, The Free Press, 1996), p. 14; Penelope Leach, Children First: What Our Society Must Do--And Is Not Doing--For Our Children Today (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994), p. xii; and Stephanie Coontz, The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap (New York: Basic Books, 1992), p. 215. Instances could be multiplied almost indefinitely. James Garbarino offers advice to parents on coping with this situation in Raising Children in a Socially Toxic Environment (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1985).

18. This is Nancy Folbre's table-of-contents summary of Chapter Eight of The Invisible Heart: Economics and Family Values (New York: The New Press, 2001), p. ix.

19. Charles E. Lindblom, The Market System: What It Is, How It Works, and What to Make of It (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001) p. 4, pp. 27-28.

20. Philip Rieff, The Triumph of the Therapeutic: Uses of Faith After Freud (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966, 1987), p. 52, p. 71.

21. Mona Harrington, Care and Equality, pp. 37-38.

22. Hewlett and West, The War Against Parents, p. 124

23. Nel Noddings, Starting at Home: Caring and Social Policy (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2002), pp. 72-73. Noddings offers an analysis of care that is essential akin to older political and philosophical analyses of human rights. Analyses of rights tend inherently toward individualism; her analysis of care yields a highly relational vision of human society.