A useful analogy that has occurred to me in terms of understanding the ways in which Covey's advice can be applied to my own life is to look at his concept of intergenerational living in terms of living in a neighborhood that is literally the home to essentially one generation vs. A neighborhood that is home to a demographically versatile group of families.
Covey stresses again and again the importance of living all aspects of one's life in the manner that one was taught within the family unit. For example, he writes a great deal about the importance of being interdependent with others rather than fully dependent on them so that one can retain one's sense of autonomy while at the same time also being able to rely on the strengths of others meshed to one's own. This is a model that tends to work well within a family, but it obviously has limitations. Both infants and the elderly have to rely on help for others, but these periods of dependency are balanced by long decades in the middle (for those without significant ability) of being able to be autonomous.
But What if My Family Looks Different?
One aspect of Covey's writings that I did find to be frustrating was that it is difficult to determine most of the time how literally he intends his readers to take his advice that we should base other aspects of our lives on the ways in which we learned to behave within our family. Does he mean this to be a metaphor or a blueprint? It seems to me that he is more inclined to see it as a blueprint, which seems to me to be problematic. Covey has the admirable goal of trying to inspire people to better and clearer forms of communication with both themselves as well as others and to push toward a clearer understanding of their own goals and needs. However, he does so by asking people to base their assessments of their lives and their future goals on an idealized and very conventional family structure.
For Covey, the family is the key to understanding all other aspects of one's life. But how is this strategy helpful and productive if one's own family (either one's family of origin or the family in which one lives in at the moment) is neither idealized nor -- even if is healthy -- simply a family that is very different from the kind of family that Covey seems to be the only acceptable one?
Covey makes his connections between family life and success (again, in a very limited sense) and the success (and efficacy) that one can experience in the workplace quite explicit. He argues that businesses require of the effective employee (as well as the effective manager) the same types of relationships, ethical stances, ability to set priorities and establish missions and goals, and regulate interpersonal dynamics that the family requires of its members.
Turned around, we can see the key limitation of Covey's work. It is not so much that Covey understands the company in terms of how the family works, but rather the family in how the company works. It is almost as if (at least at times) he has created an image of the perfect employee and worked backward from there to create an image of the kind of family that would produce that type of individual. There is a single "correct" and "proper" type of worker and manager, and these are raised in a correct type of family.
Many people would feel that there is nothing at all wrong per se in the type of family that Covey is describing, especially as he describes his own role as a parent. His model of the proper father is a very authoritarian one. While he describes himself as a father who provides constant and unconditional love, Covey nonetheless also depicts himself as the authority in the household and expends a great deal of energy teaching his children to act exactly as he would (for example, p. 20 and p. 35).
When reading through each chapter of his book, I found that there were a number of very useful ideas. However, when taken as a whole, and looking back over what I have learned over the course as a whole, I find that Covey seems interested to a seemingly unhealthy degree in imposing habits and behaviors from outside. Rather than encourage and support individuals in learning to create their own internal belief systems that will sustain them. He seems far more interested in controlling his children than in educating them.
His desire to be the only individual in authority in his household is further represented by the fact that his wife, Sandra, is almost entirely invisible in the book. Covey describes her as a "helper" (p. 20) rather than as an equal and indeed seems to go out of his way to humiliate her in the book. He describes her as being dependent on him and depicts her as being even almost mentally incompetent as he presents a story that he pretends to find humorous -- her attraction to Frigidaire refrigerators. He uses this story to psychoanalyze her in a way that made my skin crawl.
Covey is someone who taught me a great deal. But upon reflecting on the book, I also realized that he taught me both by the extremely useful tips that he gave (such as ways in which I could listen more effectively: I found this to be very helpful and effective and have already been able to use his methods in a number of different situations) as well as by negative examples. I would like to be as effective as he is and I believe that I can use his advice to become that effective a person. However, I have realized that I do not want to be effective in the same way that he does.
Looking to Community Patterns
In seeking to synthesize and absorb what Covey said over the course of his book I realized that it might be helpful to explore how his idea of intergenerational living in a more literal way, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say in a broader way. Covey looks to the family to explain how he believes that living with, working with, and communicating with individuals of different generations as one does in one's family is an excellent basis for all other aspects of one's life.
In this section, I extend that model of his to include the larger neighborhood and physical community in which one grows up and lives. I believe that looking at intergenerational living on a community level rather than on the level of the individual family will provide me with a model for intergenerational living that is not based on the authoritarianism of his model of the nuclear family.
There is a great deal that is written about the ways in which the American social landscape is segregated by race as well as class. This is certainly true: People who live next to each other and interact in the ordinary but important ways that individuals do who live in proximity to each other tend to be the same race as each other and the same class. They tend to be linked in other ways, such as level of education and religion, since both of these characteristics are linked to race and class.
However, there is another important way in which American neighborhoods are segregated, and that is by age. Drive through the typical new subdivision and you will quickly notice that not only are all of the trees in all of the front yards exactly the same height since they were planted within a week of each other, but all of the children are exactly the same height as well, all having been born (or so it seems) within a few months of each other. Likewise, aging suburbs tend to be almost entirely inhabited by people in their later middle years whose children are grown and gone, to return on a regular basis bearing grandchildren to visit. and, of course, long-term care facilities are home to the aged, with some visitors from younger generations making the rounds.
The fact that American society is so stratified and so segregated by age means that it has become natural for us to imagine that society should in fact look like this, that this is the right and proper and natural way for our neighborhoods and communities to be structured and interact with each other. but, while there are advantages to such a system, it is not the only one.
When people discuss the advantages of age-segregated communities, they tend to focus on the ways in which such communities bring together people who have…