Larsson_Carpenter-Shop2

Ischomachus’ wife: “My mother told me that my job was to be responsible.”
Ischomachus: “Yes, my dear, of course, my father gave me the same advice.”
Xenophon, The Estate Manager, VII

Her parents told her to be responsible. And his told him. We can presume the parents did more to teach responsibility than just give advice. Forming children to be responsible is a, if not the, central task in parenting. ‘Being responsible’ here means taking ownership and being careful to do one’s part, for the sake of the common good. To learn to be responsible one must be given responsibility. In pre-industrial-revolution households many things needed for human life were produced. There was thus much significant work—work that had an obvious and urgent connection with life—to entrust to the younger generation. Seeing with their own eyes the care-ful work of others, especially their parents, young people also had a pattern to follow. Finding a fitting context for teaching responsibility through work is more difficult in contemporary households.

But being responsible implies more than having a good work ethic. It requires having a heart for the common good—and its claim upon me. In other words, the truly responsible person is careful in his work precisely because he sees his work as contributing to something greater than his own needs and wants. What then forms children to revere and want the common good? William Cobbett wrote: ‘To have a dutiful family, the father’s principle of rule must be love, not fear. His sway must be gentle, or he will have only an unwilling and short lived obedience.’ Parents lead by the example of their love—a love the children should experience, should feel in the parents’ exercise of authority, and in the parents’ work. Christopher Lasch asserted that it is the task of the family to make a person ‘want to do what he has to do.’ It is easier to mold exterior actions than to mold the heart. It is the role of parents to do both at the same time.

Xenophon (430-354 B.C.) was a soldier, historian, and philosopher of Athens. Like Plato he wrote dialogues featuring Socrates as a great teacher. Among these dialogues is Oeconomicus, translated as The Estate Manager, in which we gain insight into the structure and principles of the ancient household.

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE:

Living as a Household of One

Living as a Household of One

“…and the association of living beings who have this sense—of good and evil—make a household…” Aristotle, Politics The fact is that many people today end up living in a house alone. Sometimes it is by choice. Other times it is surely not, and the house has echoes of...

read more
Restoring Respect for Elders

Restoring Respect for Elders

“Might we not say that filial piety and respect for elders constitute the root of Goodness.” Confucius, The Analects The alienation between young and old is at times palpable. It’s not usually open disdain or hostility. Rather there is a real disconnect, as each group...

read more
The Amazing Gift of Gratitude

The Amazing Gift of Gratitude

‘Do you wish to repay a favor? Receive it graciously.’ Seneca, De Beneficiis There is usually more than meets the eye in the wonderful realm of benefaction-- doing favors or good deeds for others. In any benefaction freely given there is the possibility of a unique...

read more

Pin It on Pinterest