Reporter's Note: I write to President Obama. He does not write back. Not even a postcard.
Dear Mr. President,
I read a column the other day which expressed a thought that has long rattled around in my head and never more than lately. In short, it focused on a basic contradiction in our culture’s views of families. On one hand, we like to say that we believe in family values and the importance of parents who spend time with their kids; and on the other, we set up business environments which discourage that activity at every turn.
I suppose if you are President you can pretty much set your own hours (ha!) but the rest of us usually have to answer to a work schedule which has grown less and less concerned about the other parts of our lives for years now. Think about it: When you and I were kids, parents generally worked somewhat reliable schedules. The idea of a 9-to-5 job was not a fantasy, but a cornerstone of how we built our lives. You worked for 8 or 9 hours a day, then came home to be with your family, to pursue hobbies, to relax, and to enjoy the fruits of your labor…to wit: free time.
Back then, it was almost unheard of for the office to call after hours unless you were a doctor or fireman or someone else who dealt with emergencies.
Today? Every Tom, Dick and Harry has a cell phone or BlackBerry and receives messages around the clock. Usually, they are items that can wait until tomorrow, but they are distractions nonetheless; little reminders that say, in effect, “we know you are with your family or friends right now, but remember, you’re always on the clock as far as we’re concerned.”
You and other politicians go around all the time talking about how much families matter in this country; how you empathize with our struggles. Yet, at the same time, you never speak a word about the need to actually protect those families by encouraging businesses to cut back on such off hour intrusions. And frankly, I think you feel as if you can’t.
Our economy has been built on this steady squeezing of the workforce and with the economy teetering now, the last thing you want to engage is the issue of telling employers maybe they ought to have greater respect for families by taking more seriously the idea of a 40 hour work week.
But the thing is, I think refocusing on that basic value might hold much more economic promise than you imagine. More on that tomorrow.
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