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How Society Works

How Society Works

Magnanimous Humility: Rescuing Greatness from Pride

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Can a father teach his son to pursue greatness humbly? Alexandre Havard, an expert on magnanimity and formerly a professor of law at the Sorbonne, insists magnanimity is humble.  Otherwise magnanimity (the pursuit of great things) festers into pride and self-centeredness. 

I once had a professor of psychology who was commissioned by a major international health organization to lead a research team on a major child issue. This was his highest professional honor, but he mentioned it every few lectures in a self-aggrandizing way that weakened his capacity to inspire us. 

True greatness places itself at the service of others. Had he been humble, he would have used his great accomplishment to show us how to aspire to similar heights in our chosen specialties.  Who knows who among us would have become even greater. We did learn much from him and he was generous in other ways. But what opportunities our professor missed; with a humble core, how great he would have been. A savvy father wants his son to understand this difference.

In the absence of personal contact with great humble men and women, stories can instruct and inspire our children, as happened with a family friend.  Her parents divorced when she was six and she grew up as an only child in an irreligious, radical-feminist household.  Today she is a wonderful wife and mother of a large family that is extraordinarily close and competent, causing all who know them to marvel at her accomplishment, even more so considering her upbringing.

One day, discussing books with us, she mentioned she had recently handed her teenage son the novel ‘Meet the Austins’ without telling him what the book meant to her. It’s a pleasant story about a family with an understanding, nurturing mother. It had captured the imagination of our friend when she was sixteen and it became her goal in life to raise a family like the Austins. 

When her son finished the book, she asked him,

   “How’d you like it?”

    He said, “That’s us!”

Without knowing it, he had just given his mother a memory she has treasured ever since. And for us, he taught the power of stories to change lives.

The author of Meet the Austins cultivated her greatness to create a story that made it possible for a 16-year-old to aspire to her own singular greatness.  

Savvy parents make sure to have many inspiring stories in their home library collection.

For the good of the child, and the future magnanimous society,

Pat Fagan, 

P.S. I would welcome the titles of books and stories you recommend (

Magnanimity: The Father Who Honors His Son

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Just as Spartan mothers told their sons to “Return with your shield or on it!” so too, great parents tutor their children in greatness, each child in his own way.

Public honors were the motivator for the great men of Greece, and to this day, we are used to drawing the best out of each other in sports: to win an Olympic gold is an honor that spurs athletes to ever-greater achievements. The great modern father teaches his son to strive in all areas of his life, not only in sports but also in his favorite subjects, his chosen field of work, in the arts, and in his areas of special gifts.  These battles extend the boundaries of his son’s soul — ultimately in the service of others. 

He teaches his son that in life you never coast. You’re either going uphill or sliding down.  You cannot coast on an inclined plane. Some try by moving sideways, but gravity distorts that journey.

Great fathers, families, schools and societies are aware of this “inclined plane” and make it clear that happiness comes from leaning into the hill. By adolescence, the well-tutored boy knows deep in his bones, the nature of this internal battle … small but, at times, intense and, like the Spartans, ever-ongoing.  

The father begins with his very young child by the way he plays with him. Taking delight in him the father draws out excellence — in a way the son loves! It might be to throw the ball a bit further, or straighter or faster.  The son who delights in his father, will push himself to that “little excellence” in order to see his father’s joy. A small honors for a small thing, but that is how the masculine “bond of doing” grows between father and son.

Though the time will come when being honored by his father alone is not sufficient, the father is prepared for this transition and teaches his son how to seek other men the son admires, men who will also draw the best out of him, and to whom he says: “I want to learn from you. What do I need to be permitted to do that?”  On being told the boy responds: “As soon as I am ready, I will be back for that honor!” Thus, the father has taught his son a strategic lesson: how to seek the one who can help expand his heart in his pursuit of excellence, and the father gets him to repeat this again and again during adolescence. 

In our times we need a civilization dedicated to excellence and can build it by seeking to be honored by those within our reach whom we hold in highest regard.  Imagine such a culture of such “honor seeking”: all seeking to be honored by those they admire and all bestowing honors on those who come to them. Such a civilization starts with fathers loving their toddlers enough to play ball when they are tired after a hard day’s work.  Such are the magnanimous men who raise magnanimous sons.

For the good of the child, the future of society,

Pat Fagan, PhD

What a Son Needs to Win a Great Woman

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To win a great woman a boy must become a great man. The question then becomes: does his father know how to help him become a great man? How can an ordinary father grow a great son?

Many a man has known a great woman, yet did not win her because, out of fear, he failed to pursue her.  Every man understands this, both the brave man who has risked it all (and won or lost) and the timid man who did not dare.  The battle to take the great action required at these “make it or break it” moments is won or lost privately, deep in the heart.

The great man is “a big-hearted man” in the way the Greeks meant it: magnanimous.  “Magnus animus,” a great soul, a soul capable of daring great things.

The Greeks thought that magnanimity, “great soul-ness,” was a virtue meant only for extraordinary men capable of taking on great things.  For Aristotle and the Greeks, the ordinary man was not capable of being magnanimous.

But Aquinas expanded Aristotle’s understanding of magnanimity, explaining that the “ordinary man” can be magnanimous by doing ordinary things extraordinarily well for noble reasons.  Thus, an ‘ordinary working man’ can become a great father by doing fatherly tasks very well. Playing ball with his three-year-old, he can lead his little boy to pitch or kick the ball with all the flair his three years are capable of.[1]  By enjoying his son’s efforts (the boy will sense any indifference) the father becomes magnanimous. He develops a bigger heart and soul in himself and in his son by humbly placing himself at the service of the heart of his young son. As he looks at his three-year-old he sees within a powerful twenty-year-old in the making.

Dr. Tim Gray, co-founder of The St. Augustine Institute, in his lecture “The Virtue of Masculinity[2] tells a  story that brings to life this ‘magnanimity in small things’.  His 8-year-old son is on bat in the last moments of a Little League baseball cliffhanger: opponents ahead by one; he is the last hope of his team and now with two strikes, carries the honor of his team in his last swing. Will he be daring or fold in fear? He gives it his all and smacks it squarely. He is the hero of the hour.  In the crucial moment he pushed aside his fear of failing and went for the full-bodied swing.  Magnus animus. If he keeps this up, 20 years from now he will have won a great woman.

In the Father Son Project, the whole purpose of the sexual formation of the son is to help him become a great husband (a great lover of his woman) and a great father (a man capable of making his children great).  Therefore, the Father Son Project is also about growing a great heart in each father, urging him and teaching him how to lean into these small “make it or break it” moments with the hearts of his children.


[1] Giving great importance to magnanimity in small things, even making it a way of life, The Catholic Church made a Doctor of the Church of a twenty-four-year-old nun, Therese Martin, for her life’s work on this topic.  Her “doctoral dissertation” has become an international bestselling small paperback, The Story of a Soul.

[2] This lecture is an insight-laden response  to the subversive  “Toxic Masculinities” project of the American Psychological Association.

Acedia‘s Effect on the Use of Social Science

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I have often wondered why 25 years of strong data has made no difference to the Congressional debate on marriage, family and religious practice.  This week I was introduced to the phenomenon that explains a lot, acedia, the opposite of magnanimity or big heartedness. Acedia has no truck with data that disturbs. It seeks only pleasure.

Throughout history acedia has often accompanied prosperity.  The widespread presence of acedia among Roman higher classes scared Caesar Augustus into enacting marriage laws with draconian penalties for adultery. All this to reform the family life of the elite of Rome.

Acedia was a grave concern for the ancient Greeks and Romans, and later the Christians (Gregory the Great and Aquinas). It is a listless softness that pursues a life full of pleasures, leading in turn to passivity.  It has four major characteristics:

  • An inordinate amount of time spent on entertainment
  • Love of comfort in all things
  • Constant seeking of pleasure in food, drink and sex
  • Emotion overriding reason

Acedia robs people of the disposition to make the effort to achieve a desired good, a good they would like were it not for the price.

This passivity towards the good-not-pursued leads to:

  • Sadness / depression
  • A growing dislike of the particular good
  • Anger with those who pursue that good
  • Hatred of the good or of those who pursue it

Apply the above to modern America. With the richest economy in world history, we, like the Romans who scared Augustus, are giving up on marriage and have few children, judging them too costly. This fear of the effort involved is seen in a passivity regarding marriage and children, accompanied by the very same stages described by the ancients:

  • An epidemic of depression. One psychiatrist said (only half mockingly) that we should add Zoloft to the water supply.
  • A growing dislike of the child not pursued: child abuse and abortion are rampant.
  • Anger at the good. Witness the Women’s March on Washington and Judge Kavanagh’s confirmation farce.
  • Finally, hatred, as in the case of abortion. Neither love nor hate at their core are emotions but actions.  To kill an unborn child is to hate it.

What has this to do with data and social sciences?

Those who have reached the acedian stages of dislike, anger or hatred have no interest in good research (the truth) and can even hate it.

Given all this, what is the role of the social sciences? For those who want to pursue the good, the social sciences can show the quickest route there.  For the young and for those with an inquiring mind about human nature, the social sciences illustrate natural law.

But the clarity of the social sciences disturbs those in the throes of acedia. Hence, many professors do not teach students how to learn from the data.

This also applies to Congress and the media.

But for those looking to understand social realities, the data of the social sciences are a source of wonder and insight.

For the good of the child, the future of the world.

Pat Fagan Ph.D.

A New Deal by Grasping the Other “Third Rail”

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I was honored to be part of a meeting with some really great men who are working on connecting absent fathers to their children. Yet they are so busy they are too preoccupied to do anything about the cause, so their work grows rather than diminishes.

I understand.  Nobody wants to touch the cause. To tackle the cause of this cancer is to call down the wrath of almost everyone they work with — the parents, the extended family, most of the teachers, even the clergy.  

What causes fatherlessness?   More than anything else: out of wedlock births.  And we know what causes out of wedlock births!

What, in the past, dissuaded and prevented out of wedlock sex?  The cause was a culture that harshly punished out of wedlock births, monitored out of wedlock sex and shamed it harshly.  Taboos were present, powerful, and enforced by virtually everyone. Up to 1950 around 3% of births were out of wedlock

This culture (and its taboos) was the greatest ally parents had in shaping the sexual behavior of their children.  It taught the big lesson: sex is for marriage. Period. It was the floor below which you did not dare think of descending, or if you did you decided it was not worth the price.  Taboos constrained your choices. Taboos are the powerful defense mechanisms of society. 

Those taboos are gone.  Leaders today are afraid to lead, and we do not have a polis that permits a discussion about this.  The clergy will not speak about it, knowing that many in their congregation will rebel and go elsewhere, taking their money with them. Teachers will not speak about it. They fear getting fired. Doctors won’t touch it (most of them), though they, like teachers, see the consequences daily.  Lawyers won’t touch it, though they see the results in court every day. Actors and celebritites won’t touch it. 

Yet nobody will touch it.  Nobody wants to be the bad guy. That is why taboos were a society-wide task—spread out among all of us, for all had a stake though no-one wanted to be “the bad guy”.  Therefore, together we were, collectively, the “the bad guy”. That is how taboos work.  

This presents us with a huge problem. Taboos once violated without retribution lose their power.  That leaves us with only one option: persuasion. But how can persuasion work when a topic can’t be discussed openly and seriously?

One person has the podium big enough to get attention.  And he has the qualifications: he has violated these sexual norms, repeatedly.  Controversy is second nature to him. He is not afraid of it. He can get things done.

He has a wife who could stomach this attention and take it with calm, dignity and courage, even as he blows the lid off the topic by saying something like the following:

“You all know my history on this issue.  I can see my sexual past with increasing clarity. Many people would say I made many mistakes.  They are wrong. They were not “mistakes”. Mistakes are things that happen to you inadvertently, mainly through no fault of your own.  But I did what I wanted to do — deliberately. I did not make mistakes. I did wrong. Being blunt about it, I did things that were evil. 

“Consensual sex by a man and a woman can be one of the greatest joys on earth if they are married, but a great evil if they are not. Why? Because a baby can result!   And that baby is immediately in danger of being killed (in abortion) or having a life of pain and suffering (out of wedlock). The baby is a beautiful new being. The evil is present in the life sentence it is getting.

“I took that chance many, many times. Deliberately.  So, I have no authority to speak to anyone about being sexually pure.  But I have authority on this evil. I know it. I have practiced it. I wish I had not.  One thing you can be certain of I will not be casting any stones.  

“It is time for a new deal on matters sexual, a New Deal for Our Children.  They need it badly.   

“Our children need this new deal so that we stop wounding them through massively misguided sex.  It is time to call a spade a spade. Sex is meant for babies and love. Sex leads to babies, and babies need the love of their mother and father and their love for each other.  That is safe sex, great sex, beautiful sex, fruitful sex, challenging sex. All else is, ultimately, fake sex.  

“All babies are precious. No baby is evil. But a lot of evil can swirl around babies when they are not conceived and born in marriage.  We all know that. We all used to uphold that. Now we don’t and we pay a very big price, but no one pays a bigger one than the babies. The mothers and fathers pay, too, but not nearly as much as children do. They pay the price of evils done to them.  

“None of us can cast stones at anyone here, me least of all.  That is why I take up this topic because you know I cannot throw stones at anyone. But for our children we have to put this genie back in the bottle.  The genie is sex. The bottle is marriage.

“The baby is safest there, happiest there, healthiest there, wealthiest there, most learned there, most capable there, lives longest there.  We owe this to every baby. There is not a baby in existence who does not deserve the stable marriage of its parents. It is not only its birthright. It is its conception-right.  

“I have a great wife – better than I deserve.  How she puts up with me I will never understand.  Imagine having to live with me. How she loves me is a mystery.  Without her support I could not even think of speaking about this.  I am in awe of her that she permitted me to do so.

“But we need many others to speak:

“Governors, who want children to have their due.

“Actors and sports celebrities who want every child to have its due;

“Jail birds …yes, jailbirds. Many of them know these truths better than most of us do.  What it did to them and what they in turn have done to their children. 

“Many will say that I ought to be silent on this issue but the powerful in our county would speak up on this.  But they don’t: though almost all of them have married intact families. Here in the nation’s capital almost 90 percent of teenagers in the professional, wealthy Northwest DC are living with their married biological parents?  In Southeast DC where the poor live it is 9 percent.  

“The successful in life live this way but they are afraid to speak this way in public.  That is why I am speaking up for all our children. They need someone to speak for them, even if it turns out to be me. 

“For men this is about turning over a new leaf.  It is about honoring the woman in our lives by putting a ring on her finger before taking her to bed.

“We want to reduce fatherlessness.  If you are not for marriage you are for fatherlessness.  With marriage we will heal so many things that have gone wrong:

  • Poverty
  • School drop out
  • STDs and so many other illnesses
  • Child physical and sexual abuse
  • Violence in the family
  • Violence the neighborhood.

“And we will produce 

  • Increased happiness
  • Increased learning
  • Increased income and savings
  • Longer life
  • Healthier life
  • And better sex!  Yes, better, more frequent more enjoyable sex.

“What a deal!  

Money, Love, and Time

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Twice in my life I have had a look inside the female universe, bypassing the protections by which women naturally keep men out of certain conversations.  The first time, while I was in graduate school, was a Sunday walk with some single friends, male and female.  There were no romantic pairings and at one stage all the men were walking together ahead.  I was held up for a moment and overheard the young women behind me.  Amazed and intrigued, I resumed walking ahead but staying in earshot. They were assessing the income potential of each of us guys.  Two were medical school students, one was a lawyer, one an architect and I was a Ph.D. candidate in psychology. These women knew the income effect on lifestyles and family life (and ranked psychology pretty low!) The amazing thing to me was that this was not a “gold-diggers” conversation — they were all nice young women — but it clearly was an easy conversation for young women to have about the young men they might become interested in.  Of course, they were right:  they would have to depend on that income for a lot of what they were hoping to achieve during their life. They were wise to be clear about that before they set anything in motion.

(The second inside look inside the female universe has the makings of another blog — someday soon.)

Many great novels have dealt with this theme of the impact of income on the decision to marry, and we all relate to that.  I, too, had a similar role a few years ago, when a future son-in-law came asking for my blessing on his proposal to my daughter.  He was a good man and I gave him my blessing but only after we had a course-correcting chat about his education/income track.

Income is a key ingredient to a good marriage.  Any young man wanting to win his fair lady had better take care of this dimension, for money and time are interchangeable.  The more money he makes, the more time he will be able to devote to his wife and children, who will (subconsciously) measure his love of them by the time he gives to them, though in hard times they see their father’s long hours of work as loving them, especially if their mother sees it so. But aside from such circumstances, love and time-giving are almost equivalent. Good income makes that gift possible.

The good father passes on this wisdom to his so, most especially if he begins, during adolescence, to slacken off on schoolwork in favor of chasing girls because, inadvertently, he may be setting up his future loss of the girl of his dreams!

If the father is close to his sons, it is unlikely they will be out “chasing girls”.  What is more likely is either they are holding off or they have already set their heart on the girl of their dreams. Either way their future looks good though their income levels may be different.

For the good of the child, the future of mankind,

Pat Fagan

Revolutionary Men

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The marriage between a man and a woman is the single most important human relationship. Period.

Many have dismissed it, others treat is as optional, and some have attacked and weakened it. For more than half of American-17-year-olds the marriage of their parents does not exist.  They pay the price and so will their children! This absence of marriage is the greatest threat to our freedoms.

Feminists have deliberately destroyed marriage. Strangely, they are now so socially powerful that many men are afraid to talk openly of marriage, family, fidelity, having children, sacrificial love, or ‘till death do us part”.

Though reforms are necessary in education, government spending, social welfare, social justice, criminal justice, economics and in the defense of Rights and Constitution, so long as marriage is weakened, these will be irrelevant.  Without marriage our society will collapse, leaving us only with coercive government. Our best and brightest tell us we are already “Coming Apart” and that for  “Our Kids the American Dream [is already] in Crisis”.

How do we restore marriage?  One father at a time by his taking on the sexual formation of his son, not leaving it to others or to chance. The goal is faithful monogamy.  All men are inclined to wander, sexually. All men have this vulnerability, for men are made like a shot guns but need to be rifles. Sexually, men are inclined to scatter shot, but to be a good husband and father they need to aim at one bullseye.  The good father mentors his boy to put down the shot gun and pick up a rifle. This is the “gun control” the US needs! Without it the nation dies. Many people sense this. 

Fathers need to gain the confidence to insist that they are the ones who understand male sexuality best.  By harnessing it they honor the women in their life. These are the great “feminists”.  

Who can be against fathers preparing their sons to honor all women by honoring his wife with all his heart and fidelity?  This is the reform the United States needs. Everything else takes second place in family, in church, in education, marketplace and government.

This is not a political reform though it is massive in its political ramifications, nor a theological reform, nor economic reform, nor education reform. This is not a women’s issue — it is a men’s issue — with massive implications for the good of women and girls.

Fathers forming the sexuality of their sons is the deepest reform possible. Nothing is more strategic. This project will transform America by restoring its most fundamental relationship, marriage. 

Men who can so form boys are our nation’s greatest need. Men who think this way need to find each other, support each other, and expand their network.  While they will differ on politics, religion, education, and economics, they are united on forming their sons and therefore can invite others to join them in bringing sex education home where they  will change it from “sex gone wild” to “really good sex”; one father at a time; one son at a time. 

This is revolutionary manliness. It packs the punch our nation needs.

Let me know what you think!  And sign up here for The Father-Son Project if you want to be part of it. 

And, pass this on to a friend or relative who might want to think about it too.

The Wandering Male vs. Ordered Liberty

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Male-female differences in attachment styles point in the same direction that Millet and Firestone, the Marxist feminists, pointed: men are inclined to wander, sexually.  J. R. R. Tolkien, definitely not a Marxist feminist, more or less said the same in his letter to his son on marriage: “Men are not [monogamous]. No good pretending. Men just ain’t, not by their animal nature.” 

Tolkien is tutoring his son in fidelity in marriage.  It is a phenomenal letter. From a man who wrote love poems to his wife all his life it is bracing and, for many, shocking in its lack of sentimentality,.

Read it. You will learn more from it than from me on how fathers shape the sexuality of their sons, the single most important task facing the human race. With family and sexuality gone so wrong, even our brightest scholars are struggling to grasp the implications. In “China’s Changing Family Structure: Dimensions and Implications” just published by the American Enterprise Institute , Nicholas Eberstat, the editor, has this to say:

“In Japan at this writing, there is a conspicuous disinterest in sex with others on the part of a growing share of young men and women. The first “marriages” between men and video game avatars have already been consummated, and “marriage” between humans and sex robots may not be far away. Can we say with confidence that all this—and more—cannot happen anywhere else on the planet? Indeed, with continuing increases in affluence and material capabilities, the family at large might increasingly be treated as a social construct rather than a biological lifeline, ever more sculpted by and contingent upon the unbridled quest for personal autonomy. In such a world, blood lineage would matter less and less, and conscious selection of others would matter more and more, in the formation of “families.” As a matter of fact, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe had a premonition to this very effect two centuries ago; it is hinted at in his novel titled Die Wahlverwandtschaften, conventionally translated as “Elective Affinities,” but equally well as “Kin by Choice.” It is difficult to think deeply about such a human future, let alone to work through exactly what society, economy, and politics might look like in it. Presumably some great elixir of trust in others outside the bloodline would have to prevail and permeate daily life. But what else?”

We in the United States have some of this problem, but we have much going for us, too, made clear in The Next Hundred Million” by Joel Kotkin. The US is the world’s ongoing experiment in freedom. Increasingly we are a people of many peoples (“a race of races”) and of many religions.  We are a nation founded on the principles of ordered liberty. Though we have never fully attain that ideal, we constantly struggle to get there.

Yet there is something even more fundamental than ordered liberty.  Underneath the US Constitutional order is ordered male sexuality, giving us ordered liberty between man and woman in marriage and family life.

The Marxist feminists understood this and exploited male sexuality to create the chaos we are now experiencing. Tolkien understood it and instead demanded of himself what was needed to have that form of liberty in his marriage and his family.

If it is to remain the world’s ongoing experiment in freedom, the U.S. needs fathers who shape their sons to honor women so that the sons become great husbands and fathers.  Nothing is more important right now.

Dollar Rich but Time (and Relationship) Poor Americans: A Way Out?

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Forming and developing relationships takes time not money. In the U.S. we are great at making money, running businesses and increasing productivity, and have  57 Nobel Laureates in Economics to prove it. The rest of the world agrees and beats a path to our universities to learn how.  Though we are the richest nation in history, however, our people don’t get much paid vacation, and more than half don’t use the small amount they do get! Contrast this with Western Europe where most take August off for family vacation time. I myself, an immigrant from Ireland, was struck by this difference and concluded that “Americans live to work while Europeans work to live.”

Is there any connection here with the fact that America is in deep relationship crisis: only 46% of our children grow up in a family with both parents present all the time? For Black Americans it is only 17%! As a culture we excel at work and income but fail miserably in relationships even as we are very generous with our money.

We lead in helping to pull the world’s remaining half billion out of extreme poverty, yet are digging a cultural grave for ourselves as the  Senate’s alarming report, Trends in Deaths of Despair (aka suicide) reveals. For the U.S. Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s remark holds true: “There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love.”

Yet, there may be a way of harnessing our “work” strength to resolve our relationship weakness. 

Recently I had an epiphany while trying to help a friend who had “screwed up” his marriage and family life. He was trying hard to put it back together, but in his anxiety was jumping all over the place and getting nowhere except into deeper trouble. I was close to throwing in the towel, for nothing I did helped. Then a grace came: “What are the most important relationships in your life?” I asked.  He answered, “God and my wife.” Then I said, “Why not ask your wife ‘What is the one thing I can do for you today that will bring our relationship closer to what you want it to be?’ He liked that. He has been doing it every day and says his wife reports their relationship is the best it has been for years! By prioritizing the work involved around the needs of their relationship he sped ahead.

Then it occurred to him to go further: why not look at all the other relationships in his life and, mentally, ask and answer the same question for his children (one by one), his boss (i.e. his work), and so on.  Soon he had all his tasks rank-ordered but in a way that fit both “U.S. productivity” standards as well as his own need to have the people in his life happier with him.

He concluded: “There is no point doing anything before “the single most needed thing” in any of these relationships.”  When he surveyed them all, he found he had his whole life covered! In order of importance and with peace in his soul.

I have been mulling this over and applying it. Here is what I have learned so far:

  • All our tasks (productivity) can be looked at relationally.    
  • Simultaneously every important relationship has a task waiting to bring it to the next level.
  • Relationships give us the most productive rank-ordering of what we should be doing.  Everybody (wife, bosses, friends, God) will likely agree with the ordering.
  • Our productivity will soar, for we will be at peace and able to concentrate.
  • It is a fine way “to love your neighbor”.

The experiment is still ongoing for me and for my friend. I suspect that with constant practice it will have a profound re-orienting effect.  I wish I had “discovered” it when I was much younger. I would have lived my life differently — with better work and richer relationships. 

Hillbilly Elegy: The Power of an Attachment beyond Mother’s or Father’s

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I recently listened to J.D.Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, and given Faith and Family Finding’s recent exploration of attachment research, I found that a blessing for I heard the story differently.  

In spite of Appalachian poverty, family violence and addiction, and his mother’s five husbands, Vance and his sister end well: he with a Yale Law degree and a beautiful wife; she with a peaceful marriage.

Despite the violence and drugs, there were two secret ingredients: one, the deep attachment of virtually all in the family of origin to each other, and to their culture and place, and, two, the care of his maternal grandparents, who had overcome, somewhat, their own problems of addiction and violence.  Both grandparents played a big role in Vance’s image of what he could be. They sternly propped him up, always with massive doses of affection and the assurance that he always had a home — their home. ‘Mawmaw’ his grandmother, was the deepest influence. Originally a scandal to her family, pregnant at age 14, she fled Appalachia with her young husband and settled in the booming town of Middletown, Ohio. 

The human heart is made to belong, and Vance was instinctively aware of it throughout his young, struggling childhood.  Though close to going under a few times, he continued to strive. He was bright, both intellectually (Yale Law) and socially (he could read the situations well), but he also had a few saviors, his sister and Mawmaw, who was anchor for them both.  Feeling unprepared for college, he joined the Marines to toughen up. Heart, intellect and a secure base (Mawmaw and the Marines), these have given the world a great talent, who now is devoting himself to helping others have the same.

If you have not read the book, I recommend it.  Ron Howard, whose movie version comes out in 2020, has a good record in directing biographies, letting the truth of the story come out through his lens. 

I hope Howard is inspired to explore the life of Vance’s sister Lindsay, who, with a preternatural calm and prudence, repeatedly protected him before his own abilities kicked in.  She went on to marry a good man and raise a sizeable family. Women like her, hidden in the background, constantly build and renew the world.

For the good of the child, the future of the world,

Pat Fagan