The Art of Turning Out Good Citizens
and Employees

A female friend of mine complained about the shallowness of the majority of today’s men in their social interactions. Rather than concentrating on getting to know women to establish bridges of compatibility and understanding, their main emphasis is on how to get them to bed. My friend’s observation made me analyze closer the multiple interactions that take place in today’s societies, as some are as dysfunctional as those that my friend complained about.

In socialist countries, the value of an individual’s aspirations to better himself or herself is relegated to the goals and programs of the Communist Party. Take the case of Cuba. To pursue a college or higher degree in Cuba, the Cuban authorities review the student’s family participation in furthering the goals of the revolution---like attending Fidel’s and Raul’s speeches and volunteering to spy on their neighbors. When Fidel came to power in 1959, he made ideology the key force in academia and demanded intellectuals to produce work that mirrored state interests. This was reflected in a message that Fidel sent to intellectuals in 1961 to streamline the parameters for scholarly debate. He proclaimed that “inside the revolution---everything; outside the revolution---nothing.” Those refusing to accept this formulation risked losing state-awarded privileges and educational and work opportunities for themselves and their family members. Tenacity, determination, hard work, merit, vision, and talent play secondary roles in these societies.

The reverse is true in capitalist countries like the United States that over-emphasize the needs of the individual. The overparenting starts when the baby is still in the mother’s womb by exposing the baby to classical music with the thought that this type of music serves to stimulate the baby’s brain and senses. The ultimate goal being to be the very best, while the child’s feelings remain unimportant. In other words, what matters is getting the kids into the best nursery, the best high school, and the best college, which would lead automatically to landing the best jobs upon graduation. Naturally, the implication being that the best job is the one with the best salary---without giving much thought to the fact that this isn’t always the case. There are other factors that define the best job, like working with the right team, the right supervisor, being professionally challenged, and having an employer with family-friendly policies.

It is not uncommon for many preschools to have replaced playtime with reading and math training. When the time comes to fill college applications, many parents fill them out themselves to leave nothing to chance, or pay professional agencies to help out. Even when the student gets into the right college, the overparenting does not stop there. In fact, many parents or their office staffs edit their children’s research papers via e-mail.

Some students provided with the above perks may land a fancy job; others do not. The unlucky ones don’t know how to accept failure, and their stories often have tragic endings. Others are so used to their parents making decisions for them, that they move back home after graduation. Their interpersonal skills and emotional maturity leave a lot to be desired, and they later present unique challenges to management. Esprit de corps and teamwork are not in their vocabularies.

So what’s the solution for countries to turn out citizens and employees who will be assets, rather than impediments, to compete in a global economy? The answer can be found in the middle by getting the right balance. Looked individually, there may not be a problem with many of these practices. However, like the famous philosopher and musician Barry White would say, “too much of anything is not good for you!”

While you have to subsume the individual’s needs for the good of the group or country at times, it is wise to allow the individual to follow his or her own dreams to attain happiness and success. It is important to let kids be kids---including letting them play with toys. We have to let college students tutor those who need help, instead of turning their backs on potential competitors for the Holy Grail---acceptance at prestigious colleges. We have to teach college graduates and future employees the value of achieving the goals of their potential employers, instead of spending their full energies solely on demanding their next promotion and receiving repeated accolades. They have to learn the famous saying of the 17th century English poet John Donne, “No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main.”

We also have to remind overachieving parents to stop living vicariously through their kids, and give them the wings to pursue their own dreams. We have to convince Hispanics who make it to the executive ranks in the Federal government and suddenly develop amnesia as to how they got there by riding on the shoulders of other civil rights champions that they have to help other employees who are trying to achieve the same milestones. We have to convince men whose main interest is to score with a member of the opposite sex that long-lasting and rewarding relationships are more important than just having one more conquest added to their lists. We have to teach couples the value to find solutions to their challenges, rather than heading to divorce lawyers when they face their first disagreement. We have to teach all that to excel in life, it’s okay for them to show their humanity and empathy to others, which serve as a nice complement to their academic and professional achievements.

We have to show these individuals that it is not about them all the times; it’s also about others, about the team, about their country, and about the employer’s goals. To make wise decisions, we have to learn how to make them with the heart, as well as with the mind. We have to remind them that to be successful, it is wise to find the right balance.

Jorge E. Ponce lives in Burke, Virginia.