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Intergenerational Living Crossing Boundaries the Readings ThatTerm Paper

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Intergenerational Living

Crossing Boundaries

The readings that we have undertaken this term and the analyses that we have performed on these readings have allowed me to take a greater stock of myself, learning important truths about the ways in which I can become a better person in all aspects of my life, as an individual, as a part of my family and my larger community, and also as a worker and employee. One of the key messages that I have taken away from this class is that it is important to create a unified sense of self. There will always be differences between the way that one conducts oneself (and visualizes oneself) from one social and psychological context to the next; however, I now have a much better understanding of the ways in which it is both possible and imperative to integrate the basics of my perspective and personality across all spheres.

We have focused on the readings of Stephen Covey this term, and in this paper I will attempt to synthesize what I have learned from his advice to become a highly effective person myself, focusing especially on his emphasis of the intergenerational person and as a transitional person. Covey explains what he means by an intergenerational person by exploring what it means to be a member of a family in which different individuals occupy different generational positions and by merging the different strengths of these different positions create a whole that is far more powerful. Covey argues that a large family in which members of different generations work with each other is the best basis for a well-run life, a point that has a lot of potential strengths but also one that is not unproblematic.

Family Solidarity

Covey stresses the importance of family solidarity, something that might initially surprise someone reading his book. When one thinks about the idea of being "highly effective," one is likely to think about the workplace. It is usually as an employee that one is most likely to try to be efficient. (and it is also in the workplace that other people are inclined to try to make an individual be highly effective.) One of the most valuable aspects of Covey's book is that he insists that the person that we are in the midst of our families is also the person that we are at the work place.

The above is true in large measure because of the fact that so much of who we are results from the family in which we were raised. We can -- and many of us do -- work to overcome the less functional ways in which our families molded us even as we seek to emphasize the healthy patterns that we learned from our families. Because the family is (for most of us, at least) the first group that we have any extensive experience of, we transfer and translate what we learn in our families to all later experiences.

Covey tends to idealize the family and the importance of family solidarity. Certainly family solidarity and support can be a good thing, but it is important to be realistic about them, something that Covey fails to do. As valuable as his book and his advice are, I found myself somewhat critical in reading about his ideas about the importance of an intergenerational life because it seems to me that he celebrates traditional family structures over all other forms of family structures (p. 315).

This is generally a fault in Covey's book: While his enthusiasm is certainly admirable in many ways and I have found his book to be extremely helpful, I also believe that it is important to be flexible in how one adapts to a situation. Saying that the best family structure is one in which people live close to their aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, siblings, and grandparents is simply not a realistic statement. In contemporary American life, it is simply not possible for all of the members of a family to live close to each other. This may be the case for economic reasons, but it may be the case for other reasons as well.

Someone who does not want to follow his or her family's religion, for example, or who wishes to go to college rather than start working directly after high school, or who differs from his or her family on important ethical or social issues may find that the only way to become a fully realized person is to move away from his or her family. The family can indeed be a "powerful force" as Covey writes, but powerful forces can be damaging as well as supportive. This is something that does not seem to have occurred to Covey, whose examples focus on two-parent, nuclear families with traditional and even conservative concepts of family, individuation, and agency.

Short-Term and Long-Term Ethics

The above should not be interpreted to mean that Covey's work is not valuable, merely that it must be taken with a certain amount of caution. For example, his distinction between two kinds of ethics and how these tend to work out both in the family unit as well as beyond. For example, he makes an important distinction between what he calls "personality ethics," which is essentially the use of "human and public relation techniques" as a way of getting what one wants from people (Covey 19).

Such an approach can be effective at least in the short-term, the author argues, but it is not necessarily a good long-term approach. One way in which the individual can remember the perils of short-term approaches is to reflect on how such a short-term approach would work with the members of one's family. Generally, a short-term approach is extremely ineffective with one's family because one will interact with the same people across one's entire life. If one continually interacts with other people over the long-term, then it is a much better strategy to choose ways of interacting with them that will allow both sides to prosper over the long-term.

Personality ethics is a technique that can allow people to get what they want in the short-term through applied skills and attitudes that may be in large measure contrived. While this may seem to be a good idea, this is an illusion, depending not on actual hard work but on what might be seen as essentially cheap parlor tricks. This form of ethics can even include a fairly high level of dishonesty if the individual believes that there are final ends that will justify the means that he or she is using to get something that he or she wants. And while the person with such a shallow level of integrity will lie or manipulate even his or her family members, such a person is highly unlikely to be able to flourish for very long.

Only someone who is dedicated to practice what Covey calls "character ethics" is someone who is capable and willing to make the kinds of decisions and take the kinds of actions that will stand him or her in good stead over the long run. Covey describes character ethics as the attempt to integrate important persistent traits into everyday life. These traits can include integrity, humility, fidelity, temperance, courage, justice, industry simplicity, and modesty. These are the kinds of attributes that can be used profitably (in the very broadest sense) to an individual.

It is difficult for any individual to be guided by such virtues -- for virtuous behavior can indeed be difficult to pursue. This difficulty can in some measure be overcome by the individual who lives within a community in which he or she is connected both to those older as well as to those younger than him or her. Someone who is living a truly intergenerational life, according to Covey, has the psychological support that can help maintain an ethics of character that does not rely on cheap tricks and manipulation to achieve what he or she wants.

As noted above, Covey emphasizes the fact that consistency of character and behavior is an important aspect in helping an individual maintain both that character and those actions. The individual who finds a way to act with good faith within the family unit will be able to translate that strength of character into his or her life as a worker and employee. One of the tricks for many people is that the balance between personality and character ethics can be very different between the family unit and the workplace. While theoretically an individual should be able to stake out an ethical style that carries through from one site to another, at work an employee often has a much harder time trying to assert an ethics of character at work.

This is not surprising, and not simply because in the workplace there is more emphasis on competition and profit-seeking, both of which can lead an individual to act in less ethical ways. But it is also true that in the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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