Re-valu-ing the Family, Part Twenty-four: What Business and Media Could Do for Families
by Richard and Linda Eyre
Note: In this twenty-six part column, Richard and Linda Eyre explore the recent revolution of the family from the honored centerpiece of society to a disrespected and seemingly redundant appendage to the larger corporate and cultural institutions of our new world. Re-valu-ing the family, the Eyres believe, is the only alternative to America’s demise. The sequence of the column is: A. Re-valu-ing the family (part I); B. sThe “crux” (parts 2 and 3 — why family is the foundation for everything, including happiness); C. The “curse” (parts 4 and 5 — the social problems that plague our society today); D. The “crisis” (parts 6 and 7 — the breakdown and breakup of families that allows and leads to the social problems); E. The “cause” (parts 8, 9, 10, 11 — the reasons our families are failing); F. The “culprits” (parts 12, 13, 14, and 15– how our new, large institutions are destroying the small, most basic institution of family); G. The “cure” (parts 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22 — what you as a parent can do about it); H. The “case” (parts 23, 24, and 25 — a case for government and big corporations to pay more positive attention), and I. Finding or forming a family support group (part 26).
Large private, public, and nonprofit institutions make countless thousands of decisions, policies, and choices of direction and orientation every day which affect families. If every manager, every policy maker, every decision-making officer of every large corporation could be implanted with a tiny microchip that did nothing but maintain awareness of family importance and consistently pose the question, “How will this impact families?” . . . that would, in fact, turn the hearts of policy makers in the direction of family needs . The world we live in would rapidly begin to become a different and better place.
Since the “chip” approach isn’t possible, we’ll try the “thorn” approach. Each “directional recommendation” that follows is intended to be a little attention-getting thorn in the side of decision makers in a larger institution . . . to get their attention and prod them to consider their products, their pitches, their procedures, their priorities, and their patterns in light of the net effect they are having on families. What follows looks a lot like (and in fact is) a wish list — a set of things most parents wish larger institutions would do to help (or to stop hurting) families. Most of them aren’t likely to happen anytime soon. But while we’re fixing our own families, we can wish, we can wait, and in some cases we can even demand.
1. Family Supportive Suggestions for Work and Professional Institutions
Families are being squeezed harder than ever before by corporate America. The corporate preoccupation with profit and stock price is causing short-term policy that will hurt everyone in the long run.
What should corporations do for families? In essence they should wake up to the fact that devaluing their employees is a very bad long-term policy — bad for everyone, including stockholders and top managers. The companies that emerge on top in the new millennium will be those that can attract and hold a loyal work force. And as the number of available workers declines, companies with reputations for greedy top management, low worker wages, long hours, and poor family benefits and flex options will be the big losers. Those who are getting away with it now will not get away with it for long.
At the very least, any mid to large corporation should seek to offer its employees:
1. A fair wage and other compensation commensurate with the company’s overall profitability (a truly enlightened company will plan a tight limit on the ratio between its CEO and its lowest paid worker).
2. Real, well-publicized and accessible job flexibility options that can accommodate the needs of parents and kids — the whole gamut from flex time to job-sharing, from telecommuting to child and elder care, and from real child care leave to shorter work weeks . . . all should be considered and fine-tuned and incorporated. Companies need to turn these catch phrases into accessible realities.
3. Locations transfer policies that do not uproot families against their will.
4. Job security that can be interrupted or threatened only by extreme incompetency on the part of the employee or extreme profitability stress on the employer.
2. Family Supportive Recommendations for Financial Institutions
Nothing destroys families like debt. By making high interest credit card debt so easily available to everyone, and particularly to young parents and college age kids, banks and other financial institutions are putting huge stresses and strains on families even as they increase the default rates that result in higher costs and interest rates for everyone.
Instead of offering “pre-approved” credit cards to us all and competing with each other to see who can create the most debt and charge the highest interest rates, financial institutions should take more responsibility for assisting families in learning and practicing sound fiscal policies.
All any bank officer needs to do to be more family supportive is to treat and advise all customers like he would his own children. If his married daughter and son-in-law asked about credit cards, he would say, “Use a debit card for now and avoid any debt except for education or to buy a house.” If his college freshman son received unsolicited, pre-approved credit cards in the mail at his dorm, the father would say, “Cut them up and throw them away or if you want to use one to establish credit, get one with a low limit, not more than $1,000.00, and use it for one purchase a month and pay the bill each month before there is any interest.”
If that same banker and his counterparts everywhere would give the same advice to everyone, countless families would be saved and spared the devastation of heavy consumer debt.
The best goal of banks and other financial institutions could adopt — a goal arrived at benefitting their customers and thus benefitting themselves over the long term — would be like a coin with two sides: 1. Avoid any policy or practice that endangers or hurts families; 2. Actively develop and implement programs to assist and help families.
In their best light, financial institutions and their services are enormously important and helpful to families. They allow the purchase of homes, they facilitate savings and retirement, they give security and provide for retirement. Yet by making credit and debt too easy they destroy so many of the very families they could have helped. In sum, their services are constructive and helpful to those who are financially responsible, but can be destructive and devastating for those who are not.
Banks ought to take a longer and closer look at the market segment that uses credit unwisely and offer everything from simple educational tools to highly-promoted debit cards as an alternative to credit cards. Financial institutions ought to begin to judge themselves not by how high their average interest rate is but by how many stable family economies they can assist, knowing that those families will become lifetime customers with resource levels that produce bank revenue through long-term growth and investing rather than through gouging short-term consumer interest.
3. Family Supportive Suggestions for Advertising/Merchandising Institutions
Advertising/merchandising institutions hurt families in two broad and basic ways. 1. Through marketing strategies that induce greed, encourage instant gratification and cause the kind of over-extension that endangers families economically and turns parents’ attention and priorities outward rather than inward. 2. By creating ads and other images that glorify casual sex, violence, and materialism — the very things that damage and divide families most.
Trying to imagine our advertising/merchandising institutions reversing these two things is so difficult that the two following suggestions or calls will be instantly labeled impossible if not laughable. Still, we feel compelled to make them — first because that is what this book is about and second because this group of institutions and any company within it would actually gain substantial long-term benefits by following them!
1. Advertisers/merchandisers should honor moderation and actually advocate and teach delayed gratification . . . push the benefits and well-being of saving and waiting rather than the quick thrill of credit buying . . . list the full honest price and promote the savings of paying cash rather than hyping the half truths and false promises of monthly payments. Over time, short-term loses would be overcome by the long-term benefits from loyal consumers who appreciate the honesty and the motives.
2. Advertisers/merchandisers should create messages and images that theme on values and on positive emotions like love, loyalty, and personal integrity. These ads and messages probably cost more and require brighter creative input but over time they will help implant the same respect, loyalty, and love from the consumer that they portray to him.
These two dramatic shifts, impossible as they sound, could benefit most marketing institutions over the long haul . . . and they would help save the family.
4. Family Supportive Suggestions for Entertainment and Media Institutions
Perhaps the two most self-serving, delusional public lies of the last couple of decades have been (a) the tobacco industry saying smoking is not addictive and (b) the movie, music, and television industries saying they don’t influence public or individual morality and behavior, they only reflect it and report on it.
In fact, the media has enormous influence over how we perceive ourselves and our world and over how we live within it. Those who say otherwise are trying to defend the indefensible.
There is a basic question with a surprising answer which leads to some challenging recommendations:
The Question: Why is so much of our programming, our movies, TV, music, and other media so full of violence and sex? And why is really good portrayal of values, families, and positive role models so hard to find?
The Answer: It’s not as simple as “sex sells” or “people are drawn to violence” or “producers give people what they want.” The fact is that really good movies, about positive and powerful things do sell — as does truly great music and value-oriented, even spiritually-related television. Even upbeat, positive-slant news is well received if it is well reported and well produced. Yet there are nowhere near enough of these. Why? Simply because the baser the emotion, the easier and cheaper it is to portray. You don’t need a great script or great actors to depict sex and violence. It takes much more subtlety and much more artistic talent to get audiences or listeners to feel faith or fidelity than to feel titillation or terror. Media institutions, in it for the profit and for their own preservation, churn out easy formula — the stuff they can produce for cheap and that they know they can’t miss on.
1. Recommendations to writers/producers/directors: Have the courage to attempt the portrayal of the more positive (and more difficult) emotions and characteristics. Take the risk of making something about honor or truth or courage rather than the “safe bet” of more sex and violence. Show the real and honest consequences of things. Actually think about the effect and influence on the consumer. Meet the challenge that is inherent in all creation: Think more about the ultimate quality, effect, and legacy of what you make and less about the short-term profit.
2. Recommendations to actors, artists, celebrities, “role models,’ and their agents and publicists: Show the significant rather than the seamy. There are so many celebrities with strong families and strong views about priorities — sides we never see, partly because of privacy and partly because it’s thought not sensational enough to sell. But in fact, there is a hunger for human interest things that we can connect to and identify with. If people knew as much about the “good” as about the “bad,” we might all be amazed (and reassured) that there is more of the former than the latter.
3. Recommendations to news producers and directors: If every news director or Internet producer had a child he really loved — say a ten-year-old — and if he knew that child would see and hear everything he created — we would probably reach far higher standards in what comes at us as news and information. Show the good and the hopeful as well as the bad and the hopeless. Don’t sugarcoat anything, but don’t drape it in black either.
4. Recommendations to Funders and benefactors and to resources that are not “players” now but could be: Most of what ends up on the big or small screen, or on the CD starts off as writing. And writers write what they think will sell. And often the only buyers are the producer types already discussed who subscribe to the sex and violence theory. Grants and prizes, both of recognition and of remuneration can stimulate a lot of better writing. Foundations, corporations, endowed universities, churches — any entities with resources and with a desire to impact entertainment positively, could (and should) set up some form of writing prize for scripts or books or lyrics that portray positive, family, and character-strengthening emotions and story lines. Any philanthropic or alternative-minded organization looking to maximize its reach and impact would have a hard time finding a more powerful way to allocate its resources.
We were featured guest speakers not long ago at Michael Eisner’s convention of top Disney corporate officers and division heads. We wrote a brief “parents’ plea” for the occasion attempting to articulate the appeal we felt all parents would want to extend to the Disney organization in light of some of their moves away from the family entertainment that made them famous. Let’s call it “Err to the Light”:
We appeal to you now, today, as parents, as “everyparent,” from a part of the heart that only parents know. We have been with you in these convention sessions, looked around and tried to calculate the influence in this room. It reaches every American and every American child and beyond — to the whole world, not periodically but daily.
Because of your size and who you are, because of media’s stretch and subtle stimulus, you may have more influence than any other company, even more, perhaps, than any other single institution of any kind, more than the Presidency, more than the Congress. Actually, “influence” is too small a word. You have stewardship. You touch our children every day. They listen to you longer and with more concentration than to us.
What we say to you now is born not of statistical analysis or profit-margin expertise (although we promise you that “goodness sells”). It comes from a simple clarity bestowed only on parents. Because, you see, while our own personal commitments and values, our desires and dreams may quiver with ambiguity, they take on a firm, sharp focus in what we want for our children.
As mere people, we are confused by complexity when we look at our world. But as parents, we are touched by simple pure wisdom when we look at our child. In that wisdom we see the joy of right decisions, the wonder and trust of selfless love, and the nobility of simple courage. We see the good and love in the world reflected in our children’s eyes. We feel the deep desire to pour all that is good into their lives. And we feel the need for help because we also see the damning dangers of the dark dimming of sensitivity, the callous desensitizing and loss of wonder that not only robs them of their childhood but steals their awe and hope.
So, first, we thank you for the times you have portrayed the light better and stronger than others portray the dark (and when you portray the dark for showing it accurately, for making it lose), for the times when you have reached the deeper realism of right that is truly stronger than might. Thank you for escapes into fantasy that are not to places outside ourselves, but to the deepest and truest parts of our own hearts. Thank you for the times you’ve shown the courage to speak of and to the spirit and softly and carefully of a higher, better being to go with a higher, better way. Thanks for the times you have avoided the mindless amorality which is, in its public face, more widely destructive than immorality.
Media, goes the old poppycock, doesn’t influence a society’s values, it only reflects them. Is that why prime time ads cost a million a minute — to reflect? Media influences us and our children so profoundly it cannot be measured. “With influence comes responsibility” goes the old cliche. A stewardship? A burden to bear? But isn’t it more an opportunity, an opportunity to lift, to love, to help us all live in a higher realm?
As parents, our plea to you is so basic: Help us. Help us remind ourselves and our children of who we really are and who we really can be. Help us to see the light within ourselves. Help us to be better parents by being our ally, by giving our children heros and models, by creating good that is both beautiful and believable.
If you err, err toward the light. Be willing to earn 15 percent instead of 20 percent by avoiding the dark. Light brings strength, and a sure-footed, clear-headed creativity and confidence that makes up (financially and otherwise) much more than the missing 5 percent. Err to the light, not only in turning down a bribe, or a sweatshop, or a tax dodge. . . . Err to the light in turning down an amoral script, or a superfluous excess of language or violence, or a tarnishing sit-com. Err to the light in storying the noble human spirit rather than the pseudo-sophisticated “realism” of the underside. Err to the light by believing and portraying that human beings are still good at their core.
From parents to Disney: Err on the side of right, err on the side of light.
Next : What other public and private institutions could do and should do for families.
2001 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.