One of my favorite assignments working at the substance abuse treatment facility was as one of the leaders of our weekend family workshops. One of the eye opening discussions we would hold centered on the differences between unhealthy and healthy families (we use to refer to them as dysfunctional and functional). I would start out the discussion with a question. “Which family, the healthy or the unhealthy, has problems?” The quick response is of course the unhealthy, but a lot of people catch on to the fact that it is a trick question. Both types of families have problems. The difference is how they handle them.
The healthy family recognizes that there are problems. The family then works together to try and resolve the issues. It is an ongoing sometimes difficult but often rewarding process.
The unhealthy family tries to pretend that there isn’t any problem. They tend to focus on comparably insignificant issues rather than on the underlying difficulties. An example of this is a family with an alcoholic parent who instead of talking about alcoholism will fight about having pizza two nights in a row.
There are unspoken but understood rules in unhealthy families. Members are not allowed to talk about the problems, and they are not allowed to feel or think about the problems. Family roles start to develop in order to try and make the family look normal to the outside world. Roles like scapegoats, heroes, lost child and mascots. Issues don’t get resolved, because no one will acknowledge that they exist.
Now if we were to look at our government as an organization, a family if you will, given those brief descriptions would you call it healthy or unhealthy?
One of the examples that come to mind is the recent Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac debacle. We were being told, by our elected officials, that those institutions were sound and that there were no problems. When it blew out from under them it was quite a shock. It was worse than it would have been had they just owned up to it earlier. Meanwhile there is all this partisan bickering, that is really a sideshow to the real issues.
How are we going to fix problems like the humongous deficit? The government has got to face its problems openly. Pretending like they don’t exist only delays the inevitable and makes it worse than necessary.
President Obama has promised a government of transparency. I certainly hope he keeps to that. I, for one, plan to hold him to it. It’s not just so that we will know what’s going on, it’s so the government will be healthier.
I think that Americans understand there are problems. Our officials need to toughen up and have the courage to face them.
On another family note. Our fore-fathers purposefully set up a government to have a problem solving-wing and a conservative wing. They knew changes would be necessary in order to support equal rights and address contemporary issues. I have respect for the problem-solving wing. It has led to important changes like civil rights for minorities. But, the Conservative wings' job is to determine if changes demanded by the problem-solving, now identified as liberal, wing would take away rights from others, or if it would cost too much.
Back to the family motif. Think of the Liberals like kids “I want. I want. I want. Me. Me. Me.” (that’s a movie quote). The Conservatives are like the parents who want their kids to grow, but also know there are limitations. Boundaries are helpful and safe.
Even in healthy families the parent/child relationship can be difficult. But, given that our government is not functioning well the dynamic is pretty volatile. I think the Conservative voice is rather absent. It needs to be a lot stronger, wiser and at the same time kind.
So, in short if I were to provide a treatment plan for the government family I would say start addressing the root problems and that the Conservatives (the governing parents) need to be taking a more responsible and vocal role. That doesn’t mean that all problems will be solved, but it can be significantly healthier.