Friday, March 6, 2015

Overwhelmed, Part II: The ideal worker is exhausting us

Visit the book's website.
This is the second part of my book review of Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte (HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, 2014).(Part I can be found here.)

In this post, I discuss Part Two: Work, where Schulte looks in detail at how the American workplace contributes to people feeling overwhelmed, and how things could change.

The Ideal Worker

Schulte starts the section by explaining that most workplaces have not changed since the 1950s. They are designed for the traditional, linear career trajectory of men: they expect people to enter the workforce and work "full force for forty years straight".

Looking deeper still, our workplaces are built around a subconscious cultural stereotype which Schulte calls the "ideal worker". What does this ideal worker look like? "He is a face-time warrior, the first one in in the morning and the last to leave at night. He is rarely sick. Never takes vacation, or brings work along if he does. The ideal worker can jump on a plane whenever the boss asks...he is the one who answers e-mails at 3 a.m., willingly relocates whenever and wherever...and pulls all-nighters on last-minute projects at a moment's notice. In the blue-collar workplace, he is always ready to work overtime or a second shift." (77)

Schulte believes that "this notion of the ideal worker wields immense power in the American workplace. We are programmed to emulate him at all costs, or at least feel the sting of not measuring up." (77)

Personally, I call the ideal worker a "corporate monk". That's because his devotion to the workplace has a religious intensity about it, as if working were his religion and the workplace his monastery. In fact, Schulte writes that for many people today, the workplace has indeed replaced religion: "work now answers the religious questions of who we are and how we find meaning." (86)

Obviously, such an ideal is unhealthy. A workplace centred on the ideal worker is rigid, demands long hours and face-time in the office. It penalizes anyone who seeks flexible work arrangements. As Schulte says: "If we have designed workplaces around an expectation of work without end, if those workplaces expect all-out dedication of body, mind, and soul, then no one, male or female, has much of a choice. There is only one way to work to succeed or to survive: all the time." (76)

The problem with feminism

A Better Balance is a feminist organization
that fights for better family policies. 
Schulte believes that traditional feminism took on many things, but it did not take on the ideal worker. Quite the opposite: the mainstream feminist movement appeared to be pushing women into becoming ideal workers, to prove that they could do it just as well as men, and that motherhood would not hold women back. (120)

Perhaps this partly explains why the U.S. is "one of only 4 of 167 countries in the world with no [federally mandated] paid leave for parents" (98), and why only three U.S. states (California, New Jersey and Rhode Island) offer paid parental leave. (117)

Another feminist organization fighting for better working
conditions for parents, nut just for women.
Today, Schulte says, new wave feminists embrace their roles as wives and mothers. They reject the idea that women are just men in skirts. They know that real change must include men and families, and they are fighting to transform the workplace away from the ideal worker mould. (121)

As feminists pick up the fight for parental and family rights, a brand new kind of law has arisen. In recent years, "family responsibilities discrimination" has grown 500 percent from 2000 to 2010. Thousands of these lawsuits have been filed  in "every state, in every industry, and at every level in organizations."

These lawsuits are being filed on behalf of mothers who were demoted, had pay reduced or were fired because of "perceived lack of commitment to the workplace", fathers who were "passed over for promotions or stigmatized" because of active family roles. and other such cases (73)

A new blueprint

Toward the end of this part of the book, Schulte gives examples of organizations that are structured in innovative ways and reject the ideal worker model. One of these organizations is Menlo Innovations, a software technology firm in Ann Arbour, MI. Schulte visits their offices and spends time with the founders and workers at the headquarters, and she describes their setup and functioning in a lot of detail.

While I won't reproduce all that information here, it is true that Menlo is a great case study. It is truly a leader in terms of family-friendly workplaces, and I bet its employees love it. Schulte also presents a series of other interesting companies that put families and flexibility at the top of their priority list, all in different ways.

One intriguing example that Schulte discusses in detail is Clearspire, an innovative law firm based in Washington, D.C.. There, former BigLaw lawyers worked much more flexible hours, entirely from their own homes. Clearspire is inspiring and I really enjoyed reading about it, as it gave me hope for the future of law firms. Unfortunately, I just learned that Clearspire closed down last summer, probably shortly after Schulte toured their headquarters. On the bright side, apparently other so-called "NewLaw" firms have been emerging whose working models are similar to Clearspire.

Schulte concludes this part of the book with a "bright spot" focus on the Pentagon, which turns out to be a famously workaholic place with insane hours. She meets up with Michele Flournoy, who worked as the "brains" of the Pentagon from 2009-2012, and discusses the family-friendly Alternative Work Schedule that Flournoy managed to institute during her time there. The AWS "entirely changed work culture in one key corner of the Pentagon" and allowed employees, both men and women, to see more of their families and lead more balanced lives. Schulte asks: "if the Pentagon can do it, why can't you?"

Schulte's exploration of different possible ways to structure the workplace is highly encouraging. It shows that there are indeed other ways of making the workplace work, and that we don't all have to become enslaved to the suffocating archetype of the ideal worker. While our working world is still at a very nascent stage of this transformation, the shift towards a more psychologically sustainable workplace is clearly a change that needs to happen, and urgently. Happily, in various places the ball is already rolling in that direction.
    Next up, I will discuss Part Three: Love, in which Shulte looks in detail at our societal beliefs about motherhood and fatherhood, discusses the new "cult of intensive motherhood," and thinks about how we can change our social culture for the better.

    Sunday, March 1, 2015

    Overwhelmed, Part I: Most of us are stressed for time

    Visit the book's website.
    I've just finished reading Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte (HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, 2014).

    The boring book cover underplays the tour de force that is unleashed within its 286 pages of text. Schulte is a veteran journalist, and it really shows. Her book is written with exceptional rigour, quality and depth. This book should be game-changing.

    Overwhelmed is nothing less than a manifesto for an entirely new and better way of structuring our workplaces, reforming our culture, and consciously improving our own lives.

    This book is brimming with exceptional research. It's not just statistics. Like a true reporter, Schulte has actually taken the trouble to travel extensively, personally interviewing experts in many different areas, attending conferences, visiting foreign countries, and spending days in the lives of many real mothers and fathers from different walks of life. She brings those interviews and experiences to life in this book with just the right amount of length and detail.

    Tuesday, February 24, 2015

    Are stay-at-home mothers selfish for regretting their careers?

    As a stay-at-home mother for the last six years, I've come a long way in my views on the working vs. homemaker "mommy wars". When I quit my job and started my homemaker journey after the birth of my first daughter, I wanted to be the ideal mother who sacrifices herself for her family. I had come to believe that this was God's will for me as a woman and a mother. My not-so-subtle prejudice was that working moms of young children are being selfish and failing their kids.

    I was hardly unusual in my beliefs. While not many women choose to stay home anymore, negative opinions of working moms are still widespread in our society. Despite the gains made by women in the workforce since the 1970s, American society remains very ambivalent about whether mothers should be working at all.

    But now that I've been home for the last few years, I've learned the hard way that there are heavy costs associated with completely abandoning one's career in order to stay home. Looking back, I was not quite aware of how these costs would make themselves felt in my own life.

    Many of these costs were discussed recently by stay-at-home mother Lisa Endlich Heffernan, in a column where she broke the unspoken solidarity on her side of the 'mommy wars' by publishing a list of regrets about staying home with her children.

    Monday, February 16, 2015

    Book review: 14 Jewish children who survived World War II

    Visit the book's website.
    I just finished reading Hidden Like Anne Frank: 14 True Stories of Survival. This book is an incredible document, containing the personal memoirs of 14 Jewish men and women who were children in the Netherlands during the war. Each of them survived by going into hiding, and their gripping tales have much to teach us even today.

    I have heard it said that individual people can't make much difference in stopping great evil. But in Hidden, it is evident that even small actions and choices by individuals can mean the difference between life and death for others. Consider for instance, Rose-Mary Kahn's story about her father's escape from Westerbork, the Nazi transit camp in Holland:
    My father waited until the new moon, so that it would be really dark. Then he made his escape, as arranged, before the evning roll call, and ran to the agreed hiding place. As he was waiting for the foodwaste man, a patrol of Germans and military police came past. 
    One of the military policemen saw my father lying there. They looked each other straight in the eye, but the man didn't say a word.
    This policeman saved the father's life, simply by choosing to remain silent. His inaction busts one of the great excuses that was used by Nazis and collaborators after the war: the lie that "I was only doing my job".

    Saturday, February 14, 2015

    Farewell Sun News - Canadian conservative media takes a big hit

    Conservative news media in Canada has just lost its biggest player. Sun News, Canada's only right-of-centre national news network, suddenly went off the air yesterday morning.

    The decision was made by the station's owner, Quebeccor, since it failed to find a buyer for Sun News after months of trying. Quebecor is selling the Sun Media newspapers and websites to Postmedia Network Canada Corp, but Sun News was never part of the deal, so a new owner was required to keep the station operational. No such owner could be found.

    It's almost surreal how quickly a complete wipe-out of the network has happened. Not only did their television channel go silent without warning, but their entire website has disappeared as well. Overnight, it's almost like Sun News never existed.

    Tuesday, February 10, 2015

    ISIS fighters in Iraq are shaming themselves, not women

    Angelina Jolie just came back from a visit to Iraq and wrote a moving op-ed about her visit, urging for more action and resources to help the Iraqi and Syrian refugees who are stuck in dire conditions. 

    The stories that Jolie shares about her meetings with refugees have two common themes. Many refugees have had family members killed, and many have had female family members - even young girls - stolen by the militants to be used as sex slaves. Some of the women and girls in the refugee camp have themselves been raped by the militants. In Jolie's words:
    What do you say to a mother with tears streaming down her face who says her daughter is in the hands of the Islamic State, or ISIS, and that she wishes she were there, too? Even if she had to be raped and tortured, she says, it would be better than not being with her daughter.

    What do you say to the 13-year-old girl who describes the warehouses where she and the others lived and would be pulled out, three at a time, to be raped by the men? When her brother found out, he killed himself.

    Saturday, February 7, 2015

    Canada's top court says doctors need to kill to help patients

    Should I still become a doctor, Mommy?
    "There is no fault in ending a life without value."                                                      - Adolf Hitler*

    Yesterday the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously decided that Canada needs to legalize physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia. This is Canada's Roe v. Wade, only this one is granting permission for doctors to kill after birth.

    Not a single Justice on the Supreme Court dissented. Outside the Court's ivory tower, lowly ordinary citizens are adrift in a raging sea of conflicting perspectives on this incredibly contentious issue. But behind the giant black doors of the top court, the Justices are all of a remarkably single mind. The deck of cards is stacked. North of the 49th, conservative judges and lawyers are about as rare as a white tiger.

    What are the circumstances under which assisted suicide or euthanasia will be permitted by the Supreme Court? As presented by CTV News:
    [T]he patient should be "a competent adult" who "clearly consents" to end their life, and who has a "grievous and irremediable medical condition." That could include a disease, but it could also include a disability that causes "enduring suffering" and that is intolerable to the individual.
    While the media is generally presenting the definition of the Supreme Court as "narrow", with a closer look the narrowness of these limits all but disappears. Click to read Andrew Coyne's scathing take on how this ruling takes a big step down the slippery slope.

    Monday, February 2, 2015

    Are public high schools dumbing down?

    A friend recently had a long conversation with a public high school teacher in the Ottawa area, and he was so disturbed by what the teacher had to say that he took the trouble to write out the points of concern.

    Here is a rundown of the teacher's observations, as written by my friend:
    • In the ten years he has taught he has noticed a continuous and noticeable decline in student attention spans, especially in the last five years.
    • It is a constant battle to control their use of smartphones in the classroom. 
    • Academic expectations have been dumbed down and grades inflated across the board.
    • He says no one fails and no one really succeeds (bright students become bored and disruptive in classes that they find unchallenging).
    • This dumbing down of standards affects colleges and universities as well.
    • Student use of the internet to cheat or copy is endemic.
    • The easy access to information that the internet provides has destroyed curiosity in many of them.
    • Students are passive learners (waiting for you to tell them what to do and how to do it). This is attributed in part to parents and teachers over-managing their children/student's lives.

    Friday, January 30, 2015

    Nova Scotia court exposes anti-Christian prejudice of legal elite

    Here's a salute to the courage of Justice Jamie Campbell of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, who ruled in favour of Trinity Western University on Wednesday. The judge found that the black-robed pharisees of the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society could not exclude TWU law grads just for rejecting same-sex marriage.

    Will the N.S. Barristers' Society choose to appeal? Will courts in Ontario and B.C., where similar law suits are pending, follow this decision? All this remains to be seen, and so, the last word has not yet been spoken on the fate of law grads from Trinity Western University.

    Very important though, as Kelly McParland points out in the National Post, is that Justice Campbell made it clear that:
    "In trying to shun TWU students...the law society exceeded its authority. Its mandate to regulate legal practice in Nova Scotia does not include the power to order universities or law schools to change their policies. There is no indication TWU students would be inadequately trained, yet the law society would ban them anyway,...If TWU did not exist, the same students holding the same beliefs would be free to obtain law degrees elsewhere."

    Monday, January 19, 2015

    Ashley Bridges: true maternal love and the ultimate sacrifice for her unborn child

    This post is about the inspiring tragedy of a mother who chooses to die so her baby can live - and who makes that choice long before the baby is ever born. It is a tragedy because it is hard, real death. It is inspiring because it is a witness to the infinite value of even one unborn human life.

    If she were Catholic, we would surely call her a saint. But Ashley Bridges doesn't appear to have adhered to a religious faith. At 24 years old, she was cohabiting with her boyfriend and already had a young son.

    Then she became pregnant, and 10 weeks into the pregnancy she was told by doctors that she had aggressive bone cancer in her knee. Surgery was planned and she was told to start chemo immediately.

    At that point, her unborn baby was barely over an inch long but already growing tiny fingernails. Doctors told Ashley that her baby would likely not survive the chemo treatments. And here is what Ashley says about that:
    "They told me what would likely happen to Paisley, that you know, she most likely wouldn't make it and I just knew. It wasn't a choice to me. It was like this is what needs to be done. She's first. I'm not going to kill a healthy baby because I'm sick. There's nothing wrong with her. Her life is just as important as mine if not more important. I mean as a mother my job is to protect my kids."

    Sunday, January 18, 2015

    Pope Francis is wrong on free speech

    Pope Francis has staked out his position in the free speech debate, so let's take a closer look.

    Just like Bill Donohue and Bernard Toutounji, whom I wrote about earlier, the Pope argues that if you offend someone's religion then you are asking for a violent reaction. In other words, Charlie Hebdo had it coming to them. He says
    “If my good friend Dr Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch. It’s normal. It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”
    ...And so many people who speak badly about other religions, or religions [in general], they make fun of, let’s say toy with [make into toys] other people’s religions, these people provoke and there can occur what would happen to Dr. Gasbarri if he said something against my mother. (full transcript here).
    The implication here is that Charlie Hebdo was an insulting bully who taunted the terrorists, and they fought back in the most natural way that is to be expected. Not that it's good to punch anyone, mind you - the Pope doesn't go so far as to condone the resulting violence, but his stance can be summed up as: Charlie Hebdo, what did you expect? It's only "normal" that you got a punch in the nose.

    Wednesday, January 14, 2015

    Charlie Hebdo and the limits of free speech

    I keep coming across people who seem to believe that Charlie Hebdo overstepped the proper limits of free speech. The trouble seems to be that aside from insulting Muslims by portraying Muhammad, Charlie was also publishing highly offensive cartoons which targeted Catholics.

    A common opinion among Catholics thus appears to be that such insulting cartoons should not be legal, or at least, that Charlie Hebdo should have been self-censoring and not producing them. Some Catholic commentators have even gone so far as to suggest that Charlie Hebdo provoked the terrorist attack and that these journalists are in some way responsible for their own deaths.

    Here in Canada, such reactions are to be expected. After all, Canadians have already become accustomed to living under the oppression of hate speech laws and arbitrary leftist Human Rights Commissions, We don't expect to have free speech anymore.

    The lesson of Frozen: there is no right and no wrong

    I've heard lots of good things about Disney's Frozen from a number of friends, including Catholic ones whose children love the movie and the Frozen songs. So I finally brought it out again for the children to watch. (We had gotten it as a gift last year and we did try to watch it earlier, but they didn't seem interested at the time).

    The first time the children watched it, my husband and I didn't sit through it with them. They loved it. Our two girls started singing the songs around the house, dressing up and pretending to be the two sisters, Elsa and Anna. My husband and I thought it was so cute. Looks like a great movie, right?

    Then, at my daughter's request, I found Elsa's song "Let It Go" on youtube. I didn't realize it at the time, but this is the main anthem of the movie. Due to the incredible popularity of this Oscar-nominated song, Disney has since produced a version in 25 languages.  My red flags went up when I heard Elsa sing the following:

    ...the fears that once controlled me
    Can't get to me at all
    It's time to see what I can do
    To test the limits and break through
    No right, no wrong,
    no rules for me,
    I'm free!

    So the main character is now free of any concern for what is right and what is wrong? Interesting.

    Sunday, January 11, 2015

    This Catholic is Charlie too

    It is an embarrassment to Catholicism and badly misguided PR when the largest Catholic civil rights organization in the United States reacts to the Paris terrorist attack with a press release that focuses on why Charlie Hebdo deserved it. Bill Donohue, head of the Catholic League, responded to the mass murder with a press release entitled "Muslims are right to be angry."

    Donohue says in part: "what happened in Paris cannot be tolerated. But neither should we tolerate the kind of intolerance that provoked this violent reaction." He continued:
    Stephane Charbonnier, the paper’s publisher, was killed today in the slaughter. It is too bad that he didn’t understand the role he played in his tragic death. In 2012, when asked why he insults Muslims, he said, “Muhammad isn’t sacred to me.” Had he not been so narcissistic, he may still be alive. Muhammad isn’t sacred to me, either, but it would never occur to me to deliberately insult Muslims by trashing him.
    Sadly, Donohue's own anger against Charlie Hebdo only comes across as giving legitimacy to the terrorist act.