Here’s a question for politicians: Do you really want to fight poverty? I mean do you really, really want to end poverty, or do you just want to get re-elected?
If you really mean it, I have some good news for you along with some bad news.
The good news is that you no longer need to impose confiscatory rates of taxation upon hard-working families in order to give some people the money that other people have earned.
The bad news is that many of your constituents would rather deal with the disease than confront the cure. The reason I say this is because the one sure way to defeat poverty in one generation is to enact policies that would ensure that most children will be raised by married parents in wholesome and intact marriages. The problem is that many of your constituents are more committed to liberal social policies that undermine marriage than they are to ending poverty.
The Brookings Institution, which is certainly no friend of traditional morality, through its Center on Children and Families is only one of many reputable organizations whose research has left little doubt that children do far better when they grow up in a traditionally strong family. Many on the left ask, “But why should growing up with a married mother and father have anything to do with how well children do in their careers when they grow up?”
One answer is leadership. For a family to thrive, effective parental leadership is vital. For a business enterprise to thrive, effective leadership is just as essential. Not surprisingly, a child growing up in a strong family absorbs the lessons of leadership from his parents and is thus equipped to deploy that leadership later on.
Here are three lessons of leadership crucially necessary for successfully managing a family as well as for running a business organization.
(i) When leaders make mistakes or commit moral lapses, the entire enterprise, family or business, is imperiled. Just think of Hollywood’s once prominent and prospering Weinstein entertainment colossus. Or, just think of any of the families you know torn asunder by infidelity. Leadership means responsibility rather than privilege or license.
(ii) Leaders know that when they do make mistakes, they, and only they carry the burden of repairing the consequences of those mistakes.
(iii) Leaders know that part of their job is ensuring that children, employees and associates retain strong moral anchors in accordance with the value system of the family or organization. They must exercise constant vigilance because if subordinates lose their links to the central moral core, lapses in conduct are sure to follow.
Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches us these three practical lessons in leadership from a fascinating sequence of events related in chapters 6-8 in Joshua.
Here is a brief summary of the story. Following God’s instructions to Joshua, Israel conquered the city of Jericho. Though Joshua directed that all its treasures should be consecrated to God, one fellow named Achan helped himself to some choice items of plunder.
Joshua’s military advisors indicated that Israel’s next target, the city of Ai, would require no more than a small force to gain a quick victory. That small army was ignominiously defeated by the men of Ai, and Israel was thrown into doubt and fear. God explained to Joshua that the calamity was caused by transgression; someone had stolen items from Jericho. He assured Joshua that all would be well if the culprit was punished, and He instructed Joshua how to identify the perpetrator.
The next morning Joshua paraded the people through a selection process, finally identifying Achan.
Achan confessed to having taken a garment from Shinar (many translations mistakenly say, ‘Babylonian garment’) along with a quantity of silver and gold. After Achan was executed, Israel again attacked the city of Ai and this time they triumphed decisively.
Among the questions we must ask:
(i) Why was all Israel punished with such a shocking defeat when only one man, Achan, committed the wrong?
(ii) Why did God not simply identify the miscreant Himself, rather than having Joshua conduct a mysterious identification process?
(iii) We can understand why Achan took silver and gold but why a cloak from Shinar?
Ancient Jewish wisdom provides the answers:
(i) The leader of Israel, Joshua, was just as culpable as Achan. God never declared that Israel should not plunder Jericho. Joshua came up with this unnecessary prohibition on his own. (Joshua 6:18). If only Joshua had not added his own restrictions to God’s direction, what Achan did would have been permitted. Israel could have legitimately plundered Jericho just as God explicitly told them to do at Ai. (Joshua 8:2) All of Israel was punished by a terribly defeat because the leader had erred. He had promulgated a law that God had not directed.
(ii) God didn’t identify Achan as the criminal because Achan didn’t violate God’s law; he violated Joshua’s law. Thus the onus was upon Joshua to solve the crime. God sometimes leaves us to climb out of holes that we ourselves dig.
(iii) The Shinar garment is Scripture’s way of making us refer back to the Bible’s first mention of Shinar in Genesis 10:10. Along with three other references close-by, these allude to Nimrod’s war against God. Achan did want the gold and silver. However, because he mistakenly believed that God had prohibited that treasure, to get them he first had to break his relationship with God just as Nimrod had done. After that he felt free to seize the gold and silver.
Whenever parents understand and absorb these three lessons they are better able to build a strong and effective family. These three lessons also help business leaders build strong and effective organizations. Yes, successful marriages and happy families not only give their children a ladder from poverty to prosperity but they also give their children a head start in becoming excellent organizational leaders themselves. That would be good for them and for their society. But are politicians willing to declare what almost everyone knows? Namely, that stable marriages are the finest environment for children and society. I don’t know.