European Values and Family Trends

Recently I had the chance to meet with Vladislav Matej (Family Counselor with Socia) in Bratislava.  He outlined a set of recent sociological studies on European values and family trends.  Here are some of the highlights from Vladislav Matej.   

Prof. Jan Kerkhofs, University of Louwen, Belgium reported a longitudinal 20-year study of European values.  There were five primary shifts:

  • Ethics have entered the autonomous sphere (individually determined)
  • Ethical norms are influenced and created by parliaments and not by churches anymore (there are lots of examples of this)
  • There is a high tolerance to the actions of individuals
  • Individual ethics are limited by the freedom of other individuals

There has been a primary movement toward individualism, post-traditionalism, tolerance, and pessimism.

A report (D. Popeone, sociologist) shows correlating trends between the occurance of the sexual revolution, a rapid decrease of fertility, and a rapid increase of divorce.

A study by G.T. Stanton has found a rapid increase of cohabiting couples (not married) and several trends within these households: an increase in disturbing and painful relationships, an increase of interferance of the successful formation of follow-up partnerships (not sure what this means), an increase of conflict, an increase of domestic violence, and a strengthening of mistrust.

The following stats are taken from Eurostat.  The average age of men/women at first marriage in 1980 was 26/23.  In 2003 it was 30/28.  The percent of children born outside of marriage in 1980 was 8.8%.  In 2005 it was 33%.  In 1980 the number of divorces that occured in Europe was 672,917.  In 2005 it was 1,042,892.  Today, 2/3 of households in the EU live without children.  16% of families have one child, 13% have two children, and 4% have three children.  In the next fifty years, the population of the US is expected to increase by 150 million.  In Europe it is expected to decrease by 40 million.

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life

From August to November of 1991 the 87 day siege of Vukovar took place leaving nothing but ruins, hardly any building fully intact, and 100% of the inhabitants scarred by the atrocities of this war.  There is still a heaviness being carried by Vukovarians.

But there is also life, a continued story.  One thing I clearly recognized while in Vukovar this time is the impossibility of outsiders to come and feel, empathize, and make any sort of real impact.  I see our friends Laci and Keri who moved to Vukovar almost three years ago, or our new friend Charles who moved there in 1995.  By doing so they entered the story.  By entering the story they have become fellow journeyers, able and willing to share burdens, meaning, and hope. 

I love this picture of the flowers growing out of a partly destroyed building.  Maybe it is an appropriate metaphor for many us as people, especially our friends in Vukovar.  Impact, meaning, and hope are the fruits of a shared story. 

differences

Had a good talk with a couple friends recently about marriage, personalities, values, and differences.  Someone once told me that we often have a process in dealing with our differences in marriage or relationships.  Ignore, Reject, Accept, Celebrate.  At first we tend to ignore our differences.  When we can’t ignore the differences, we consciously reject them.  Eventually we come to accept these differences (they are not necessarily better or worse…they are just different).  And finally, we are able to celebrate these differences, embracing and cultivating them and allowing them to flourish.

Bázis

   A couple weeks ago, a few of us hung out at the Bázis.  This place is sweet.  It is sort of a pub/café with retro communist 1970 furniture, a loft hand-built by my friends Domi and Balázs, and a old wine cellar transformed into a disco and table-ice-hockey game room.  Whoa.Two of our American friends, Dave and Donnie, were in town visiting, and it was really cool to have them there.  We also had an awesome conversation on the topic of community.  A lot of questions were asked which is usually a sign of a good conversation.  Among several great summarizing thoughts, Dave mentioned,

“Reciprocity is essential but there are no guarantees. Choosing how we will live in a competitive, partnered, and unstable world is risky but essential.  Treating everyone as a competitor undermines all partnership and eventually produces isolation.  Partnership produces community, and community produces much of what gives life meaning: identity, value, and purpose.” 

community building

Somewhat related to the previous post, M. Scott Peck identified a typical process people go through as they are transformed into “true community.”  Here’s wikipedia’s summary of this process:

  • Pseudocommunity: This is a stage where the members pretend to have a bon homie with one another, and cover up their differences, by acting as if the differences do not exist. Pseudocommunity can never directly lead to community, and it is the job of the person guiding the community building process to shorten this period as much as possible.
  • Chaos: When pseudocommunity fails to work, the members start falling upon each other, giving vent to their mutual disagreements and differences. This is a period of chaos. It is a time when the people in the community realize that differences cannot simply be ignored. Chaos looks counterproductive but it is the first genuine step towards community building.
  • Emptiness: After chaos comes emptiness. At this stage, the people learn to empty themselves of those ego related factors that are preventing their entry into community. Emptiness is a tough step because it involves the death of a part of the individual. But, Scott Peck argues, this death paves the way for the birth of a new creature, the Community.
  • True community: Having worked through emptiness, the people in community are in complete empathy with one another. There is a great level of tacit understanding. People are able to relate to each other’s feelings. Discussions, even when heated, never get sour, and motives are not questioned.

Community and Organizations

Community does not exist for organizations.  Organizations exist for the sake of the community in which they belong.  Community is about people, and organizations exist to serve those people…not the other way around.  Organizations can often wander through years of trouble and frustration (even economically) when they see their own organization as their end purpose and goal.  And organizations experience tremendous freedom, empowerment, and productivity when they become a bit self-less.

Organization-minded people are concerned with the activities, productivities, responsibilities of the internal and external affairs of the organization.  Community-minded people are concerned with human activities, our sense of mutual well-being, and the truth of our connectedness as members of this global society.  As a result, community-minded people must embrace an element of chaos as they consider not how the community can integrate into their organization but rather how their organization can better integrate into the community.

As organizations re-orient themselves toward community, they will find the golden-rule at work and surprisingly effective.  But this effectiveness might come at the expense of the organization’s previous sense of control and certainty.  This new effectiveness will most likely require adjustments in the DNA of a organizationly-centered organization.

story

“Stories need time (and so do we).” 

“Stories cannot happen in an instant.  They need room–temporal, psychological, metaphysical–to unfold.  Stories relate action “over time.”  Because stories happen over time, there is the chance for change, on the part both of characters and of readers.  This links stories to hope.  Things can be different than they presently are or seem doomed to become.  And we, if we enter into the story and allow it to make its appeal, can be changed too.  And sometimes we wil be changed by the story of a character who refused to change.”

“The power of an imagined end, and it literally can only be imagined, lies in its ability to influence present choices.  Most characters, in life and in fiction, have some notion, however hazy or unarticulated, of what would constitute a successful life for them.  They have an idea of how they would like to “end up.”  That idea, that imagined end, can be as powerful as anything in the given of beginnings in determining the direction of our lives.”

-Daniel Taylor, professor of Literature and Writing at Bethel College, “In Praise of Stories”