Putting Government in Charge of Grief

Another way to destroy capitalism?

Perhaps it is time to repurpose Presidents Kennedy’s aphorism. How does “Ask not what your company can do for you, ask what you can do for your company,” sound? I’m prefacing my remarks in this way, because I imagine that the words that follow may come across as cruel, unsympathetic and emotionally clueless. Honestly, I don’t think I am any of those things.

What spurred this Musing? A piece in the Work & Life section of the Wall Street Journal about bereavement leave. Where do I start? Perhaps not where the article did. It began with the tale of a woman who was, unsurprisingly, severely affected by the suicide of her boyfriend. She took two days off, and realized afterwards that she hadn’t given herself enough time to grieve. Reading on, we discover that she is the chief executive of her company and subsequently instituted an unlimited paid bereavement policy for her company. All well and good. I believe that private concerns should be free to make any policies they wish.

Will it shock you that further down in the article, we discover that most federal workers have recently been granted up to two weeks of paid leave after the loss of a child and that a Democratic congressman from Illinois is proposing legislation that would expand that leave to more situations, increased time off, as well as affecting private businesses? “You see so much suffering in every community,” he says.

Will it similarly shock you to discover that advocates for paid grief leave don’t think that the leave should be dependent on your relationship to the individual who died? After all, who has the right to say that you aren’t as crushed by the loss of a friend as a parent, or to find your dog’s death as difficult as that of your sister?

Can we get real here? Losing someone you love is devastating. Mourners may struggle to cope, they can unexpectedly burst into tears and they will feel unsettled for an unspecified amount of time. Grief doesn’t fit into a time-frame or disappear on a schedule. And, yes, we can be closer to some friends than to siblings and spend more time with our cats than with our children.

Ancient Jewish wisdom mandates seven days of mourning for these four relatives—parents, spouse, children, and siblings. This is irrespective of how you felt about them. What’s more, the mourning practices are not optional for us to add for the aunt we adored or our best friend from childhood. Work during those seven days is forbidden, but the strictest practices (such as not going to work) formally come to an end no matter how grieved we still are. There is an additional lower-level mourning of thirty days and, uniquely for parents for an additional eleven months. However, for the most part, our outer lives in relationship to people like our employers resume as normal. What can we learn from this?

First, despite all the talk of, “Who needs marriage? We love each other,” marriage is a message to society that you are bound together. Girlfriend, boyfriend? Emotions may be involved but you have chosen to keep the relationship at a non-binding level and that has consequences. Certain relationships are, by definition, different from other ones. Along the same theme of separating emotions from facts, our close friends, and indeed, co-workers and employers, can choose to extend support, but that is completely separate from the government mandating payment for work not done.

Secondly, mourning and grief are real, but at the same time so are responsibilities. As human beings we need to deal with real life and its attendant difficulties with resiliency and strength. In real life, mothers who are physically ill or emotionally fragile still manage to give their children food and hugs and other needs. Small business owners who are recovering from a virus or facing a personal crisis still need to get up and go to work. Companies, no matter how large, still need to meet a bottom line. Only the government (i.e. politicians) can just give away free time and money without thinking about the impact; they simply reach a little deeper into everyone’s pockets or take money from another, perhaps more necessary project, to show how caring they are, while incidentally securing votes from those they are favoring.

One of the factors destroying higher education today is the idea that university must be a “safe-space” that cocoons students from discomfort and allows them to avoid growing up. No tough times should ever be encountered. Extending that concept to the workforce is similarly a way to destroy business. “Ask not what you can do for your company but what your company can do for you” may sound appealing, but it doesn’t meet the reality test.


What do you think? I’d love to hear your comments on this Susan’s Musing article.
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