Toronto – Canada





U.S. Politics Are Like My Family Business


The original family business counselors were patriarchal. Then along came a new approach, “Bowenism”, and the emphasis changed to “self-differentiation”. Rather than learn the patriarch’s role and duplicate it, the succeeding generation was to develop as a set of individualized persons and then work as a team.

My siblings and I took the new idea to heart. So off we went in different activities, locations and educational courses, establishing our own small businesses, while touching base with our Bowenian family counselor and expecting moral support, and sometimes financial support, from the main business.

My father and two of his colleagues objected. They complained of too much rivalry between the siblings. I believed that I had worked well and creatively with my sibs when I did work with them, for I hardly ever saw them. How could this be rivalry, let alone excessive rivalry? I assured my father and his friends that we were just being modern and that everything was fine. They were not assured and they were correct that something was wrong. (It wasn’t rivalry though.) We accessed the courts before we settled.

When Canadians look at U.S. politics we see too much rivalry, too much conflict, too much divisiveness. The U.S. constitution prescribes a division of power, so some of the Canadian perception may just be ethnocentrism. But what are we really seeing? Is there a problem?

All but two U.S. states have more per capita income than Alberta, Canada’s wealthiest province. So from a Canadian perspective the U.S. is doing really well. Although the wealth is spread out, some concentrates, especially in the tech sector of Silicon Valley. But the country is not evolving towards universal tech. Its economies are differentiated and government policies that are good for one sector may hurt another. The U.S. is not one patriarchal system moving as a whole. It is Bowenian.

This is the same problem that I had in family business. We developed a modern, self-differentiated family system but we flunked patriarchy. We did not have the skills or temperament to replicate my father’s personality and we chafed under the patriarchal disciplines – estate freezes, marriage contracts, life insurance and voting trusts – that enable family business succession. We were too self-absorbed to submit, and this made us look like rivals. Then, when we stumbled, there was no force to support us as a team, so the road to bitter litigation was all too easy.

The U.S. is following its constitution and prospering, but orderliness and teamwork are a different story. As in my family business, this arrangement amplifies mistakes rather than contains them. On the plus side, this method of organization makes money and provides an exciting life.

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