WASHINGTON — The nation's capital is obsessed with politics, power, money and squabbling over it all — and most everything else, no matter how small. Politicians believe the future of the world truly may be decided by wrangling for their viewpoint.
But the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, last week held a conference here with a different message: The future of American society really depends on the strength of its families (and helping them avoid that kind of squabbling).
The lead-off speaker was Utah's Stephen R. Covey — author of "Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families" and numerous other books. His main message was that instead of always looking for winners and losers in family disagreements, members should look for third alternatives where everyone wins. In short, the future of the world may hinge mostly on how you treat your family — and whether you can strengthen it and build trust by making everyone feel like a winner.
He didn't say it, but Covey's presentation made official Washington itself look like a dysfunctional family that could use some major therapy.
Covey's message is embraced by the Heritage Foundation, which believes the family is in crisis, is under constant attack and needs the type of help that Covey preaches.
Heritage Foundation President Edwin J. Feulner said, for example, America is seeing "record numbers of divorce, out-of-wedlock births, cohabitation, abortion, and single-parent families."
He added, "In 1950, 15 out of every 100 children were born into or entered a broken family. By 1992, 58" were.
He said children without two parents at home "generally have lower educational achievement, more behavior problems and crime; higher dependency on welfare and a host of other bad situations. The erosion of marriage is the principal cause of child welfare in the United States."
So the Heritage Foundation invited Covey — who also noted, "Cicero said marriage is the first bond of society. When that begins to unravel, everything begins to unravel. No society has ever survived the breakup of the family."
Covey preached his seven habits of effective families to help: (1) Be proactive (you're not a victim of your habits or moods); (2) Begin with the end in mind; (3) Put first things first; (4) Think win-win; (5). Seek first to understand, then to be understood; (6) Synergize and (7) Sharpen the saw (renewal).
"I can strike at the source of almost all divorce. Ultimately, I think it's a type of selfishness. But people don't know how to resolve differences other than in just kind of 'fighting or flighting' ways, like animals do, or at best a compromise" for a solution neither side likes much, he said.
"But I'm talking about creating third alternatives that are synergistic" — where everyone wins with solutions that are better than any of those proposed originally, he said.
He said a first step is truly listening and being "humble, open, empathic, deferent and conditioned until you create solutions that are better than 'mine' or 'yours' and become ours.' "
Such success builds trust and communication that allows solving the next problem more easily, he said.
To demonstrate that, he called a volunteer from the audience. He said they were going to arm wrestle. Each time that Covey or the volunteer won in one minute or less, he would supposedly win $1 from the head table. Covey let the volunteer quickly win a couple of dollars, and then the volunteer caught on and let Covey win a few.
They were then essentially waving their arms back and forth as quickly as possible to both win as much as possible. It was a metaphor about resolving differences: You win more if you make sure the other person also wins and has increased trust.
Many Washington politicians may never learn that one. But families can. That simple lesson is also probably far more important than they think. It will not only determine their own happiness and fortune, it may help shape the world's future, too.
Deseret News Washington correspondent Lee Davidson can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org