Now it is best that there should be a public and proper care for such matters; but if they are neglected by the community it would seem right for each man to help his children and friends toward virtue…
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
Being docile to reality means attending both to enduring principles as well as to the very concrete circumstances of one’s life. In view of both, I think we do well to make 2021 a year to take stock and refocus on our households–whatever our state in life might be.
A good political philosopher is well aware that man, the political animal, often lives under regimes that in varying degrees fail to do what they should. Aristotle, the master of political theory, was likewise the master of practicality, of living in reality as it is.
The polis, or political society, is the great masterpiece of human social life. As such it requires the confluence of a number of things that are beyond the powers of most individuals. The household has the character of being more within the reach and purview of each of us, even while it too is a masterpiece of human social life, calling for intense labor, intentionality, docility, and even creativity.
Aristotle suggests that the failure of political authority makes even greater the need for men and women wholly committed to the life of the household. This might seem obvious. I think the danger is that we not realize just how much this demands of all of us, and what a profound difference it will make.
Perhaps this is what 2021 specifically calls for: a re-examination and reinvestment, and even a re-conceptualizing, of that which is right before our eyes. Every day. Here are some questions we might ask ourselves.
For those of us who are married:
Might my household call for a significantly new approach? What can I do to transform and grow the two relationships that most constitute the household: the marriage and parent/child relationships? What might my spouse or my children realize (even if they cannot articulate it) about how I could do better? Have I really put the appropriate priority on these relationships, every single day?
For those of us who are not married:
Do I recognize that I too must think in terms of household? How do I make my home a real household putting a priority on relationships and service to the next generation—according to my circumstances? If appropriate, am I living now as a real and proximate preparation for a household of family? If I will not have my own family, do I find ways generously to serve family life?
This year holds many uncertainties. We often mis-spend time and energy mulling over and even worrying about those uncertainties. But the most important things are not uncertain. And it is in our power to do right by them.
Not only is my household usually my most immediate obligation and the one most within my power to execute, it is also often the main way I can effectually serve the broader community—even when it doesn’t seem that way.
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Husband, father, and professor of Philosophy. LifeCraft springs from one conviction: there is an ancient wisdom about how to live the good life in our homes, with our families; and it is worth our time to hearken to it. Let’s rediscover it together. Learn more.