It is fashionable, and seemingly statistically justifiable, to equate poverty, debt and crime with dysfunctional families and increasing incidents of single-parent households.
The trick is figuring out which is the cause and which is the effect.
Most economists and politicians blame both social ills and family instability on poverty. But what if it is exactly the other way around, and the poverty and instability are the direct results of declining or poorly functioning families?
A strong case can be made for family (or the lack thereof) as the cause and everything else as the effect or the result. After all, everything (including each of us) originates with families, with homes, with parents. How those homes function largely determines the economic, moral and character results that come out of them.
Our growing social problems, our erratic economy and our increasingly amoral society cannot be fixed by big, sweeping political or national policies or legislation (even if our divided Congress could ever come together). And the borrow-and-spend, debt-laden fiscal and monetary policies of government are essentially a reflection of the irresponsibility of parents and families who live on instant gratification and credit card debt and pass on an entitlement attitude to their children.
In a perfect world, for the economic and emotional good of society, public policy would be adjusted and legislation attempted to ensure that life satisfaction becomes bound up with real families. But since this type of macro, trickle-down solution does not seem likely to happen anytime soon or in any significant way, it is first up to families and then to the churches, the business and nonprofit sectors, the media and the educational establishments to do something at the micro, grass-roots level that will bubble up and change the trends.
Said another way, we are learning more every day that political or governmental macro solutions for any of our economic or political woes do not work very well. Consensus is virtually impossible, and even when various factions agree on a broad direction to meet a recognized need, implementation becomes incredibly complex and expensive.
The simple truth is that macro problems can often be solved only with micro solutions. The way we will save our society is one family at a time. The way we will save our economy is one household at a time.
In reality, the individual household is the basic unit not only of society but also of our markets and all of our larger institutions. And the present and future well-being of all of these, from corporations to schools and from communities to governments, are reliant on the strength of our families. All macro entities and institutions in the private, public and volunteer sectors are ultimately reliant on the basic unit of families and thus should strongly support — financially and otherwise — well-conceived efforts to preserve and strengthen that micro level.
Families, which we define as parent(s), grandparent(s) and child(ren) living in one household, are both the basic unit and the micro solution. When sound principles are not practiced and problems are not solved at this most basic level, they seem to grow ever more complex and more difficult to understand and solve.
If we think of society as a big archery target, the “second ring” around the family “bull's-eye” should be the neighborhood, the church and the school that support and supplement the family and, when necessary, substitute for it. The third ring of the societal target is the whole private sector, from business to media, which should be ever conscious of the effects its actions and policies, as well as its programing and promotions, have on families. The fourth ring is government and the public sector, which we should try to keep thin, contained to the function of protection and infrastructure and a limited safety net with the objective of only doing things that the bull's-eye and two inner rings cannot do.
Once problems spill over past these inner rings and drip into the fourth ring of government, into the welfare and justice and juvenile systems, they become impossibly expensive and expensively impossible to solve.
Every parent and grandparent, by doing his or her best within homes and in the raising of children, is contributing on the most basic and effective level to saving and improving our whole culture and our entire society.