By Kip Kolson, Special for USADT
The hypothetical Jones family consists of a father, Tom Jones, who owns a manufacturing company. The mother, Mary Jones, is an attorney. They raised three children; Linda, Susan, and Robert, who are now adults. Tom and Mary instituted a structure of untethered freedom while the children were growing up.
Freedom has a positive and negative side. The positive says I have the freedom to do whatever I want to do. The negative says I have the freedom to not do whatever I do not want to do. Growing up the Jones children exercised their unbridled freedoms by going to bed whenever they wanted, eating when and whatever they wanted, going out when and wherever they wanted, and taking what they wanted from whomever they wanted, so watching TV was equivalent to WWIII. They had the freedom to not do chores, to not keep their rooms clean, to not go to school, and to not follow the rules dad and mom instituted. This is obviously an unrealistic and extreme example, but I offer it to make the point of this article.
If we fast forward to Tom and Mary’s passing, what will happen to the business and the wealth they created? What will happen to the family structure and relationships? If they are not already destroyed by family conflicts because each had freedom to do or not do whatever moved them, the Jones family is doomed, and the business and wealth will be lost.
A video I watched recently prompted me to write on what freedom is and is not. The title is “A Free People’s Suicide” featuring a talk by Os Guinness[i]. While the topic is about America’s history and culture, the premise and themes are applicable to families and businesses, so I will share some of Mr. Guinness’s thoughts and suggestions here. Our culture is a reflection of our families. By observing what is happening in society, we gain insight into what is good or bad for families.
The greatest threat to freedom is freedom! In society, if everyone can do or not do whatever they want, that society will fall apart. Can I choose which laws I will obey and which I will not? Can I drive on the left side of the road? Am I free to cheat and steal? If I do not want to work, I should not have to but still be paid! Can employers not pay for this week’s work if they choose not to? This society will be dysfunctional and implode. The same is true in business and families. One person’s freedom takes away another’s. An example is smoking. Once people could smoke wherever they chose, but their smoking eliminated the freedom to be in a smoke-free environment. Then we restricted where smokers could smoke, thus taking away their freedom so nonsmokers could exercise their freedoms. Every time we establish a new freedom, we take away someone else’s freedom.
Mr. Guinness identified four dangers to losing freedom (I am using editorial license in translating his thoughts and applying them to the family structure); Corruption of Customs, Loss of Moral Values, Erasing History, and Time.
Think back to your youth. You had family traditions you valued and enjoyed. They were a foundation on which your family relationships rested. As you raised your family, some of those traditions followed you and you established new traditions to pass on that formed your children and grandchildren’s attitudes and values. If you grew up in a loving and caring family, your children’s families will likely embrace those values. If you grew up in an abusive family, those characteristics too will likely be found in the next generation. As children marry, other family traditions, good and bad, are introduced into the new generation. As good traditions and values are replaced by unsavory traditions, Corruption of Customs will negatively affect freedom because no one knows what is or is not allowed.
This leads to a loss of Moral Values like honesty, integrity, kindness, love, motivation, drive, and virtue to name a few. Moral Values rely, not on outside forces, but on a person’s internal moral compass. Morality is a factor of self-restraint. Addictions are examples of how self-restraint, not laws, impact an individual’s freedoms. A lack of self-restraint leads to Permissiveness, which leads to License. License means a person feels they have a “right” to something just because they want it. People do not take or sell drugs because they know it is wrong and hurts someone, not because they fear being arrested and going to jail.
Time and Loss of History go together. As time advances, the third and fourth generations have no idea what their forefathers had to endure and risk to build the family, the family business, and create wealth. In my article, Where Did I Come From and Why Am I Here? I explore the dangers of not knowing history, whether it be a family or a country. “Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.” Successful companies encourage, in some cases require and educate, employees in the history of the company, why and how it was formed, who the founders were, what its purpose is, and how the company was built and grew. A family, business, and country that has no concept of its history is a rudderless ship that eventually crashes on the rocks. As a family’s generations multiply, there must be an intentional and conscious effort to retain and retrain family members in the family’s history, values, and traditions or they and the wealth will be lost.
Mr. Guinness presented the Triangle of Freedom. He is not the originator but is a proponent. The three sides are Faith, Virtue, and Freedom. While a triangle is easy to visualize, I think a continuous circle is a better symbol because each of these is dependent on the other. Virtue produces Faith, which creates Freedoms. Faith has both the connotation of religious faith and faith in something and someone. In society, we must have faith in our systems, our laws, our constitution, and our leaders. However, faith is dependent on the virtues and integrity of our leaders and the systems. Considering our current political environment, I dare say there is a severe deterioration of faith because there is substantial distrust in our leaders and systems no matter which side of the aisle. As virtue diminishes, so does faith, and without faith loss of freedom will be the casualty.
The primary reason families split, and wealth lost, is lack of effective communication and a breakdown in trust, the latter being a factor of the former. When communication is non-existent, so is trust. Faith and trust are synonymous. If children learn they cannot trust their parents or siblings to do what they say they will do, or they are taken advantage of by a family member, they will have no faith in that person because they see their virtue as non-existent. True beneficial freedom is impossible. In the Jones family exercising one’s freedom could hurt someone else. That is not freedom!
Three hazards Mr. Guinness stressed that I have already mentioned are worth repeating. Again, he is discussing them in the societal context while I am drawing the parallel between society and family. They are Alienation of the Leaders, Corruption of Customs, and Breakdown in Values. Since I have already expounded on the last two, I will simply emphasize how critical it is to establish and maintain family values, traditions, and history that all family members buy into. Without consensus by all members, or management and employees in a busines, on the purpose and mission of the family or company and how it will achieve that mission, the family and business cannot survive.
Alienation of the Leaders is equally destructive. We see this destruction taking place every evening on the news. It seems there is nothing the right and left agree on. Protests, riots, destruction of property, violence, and anarchy fill our television and computer screens constantly. Apply that situation to a family or business. If spouses cannot agree on anything, if children and parents are constantly at odds, if sibling rivalry rages, then there is no chance the family unit will endure. Likewise, business partners who cannot agree on anything, management personal who have separate and diverse agendas, and employees who will not adhere to management’s edicts will destroy a business.
Mr. Guinness offered solutions, although they are not the only actions needed. These solutions are not simple or easy. Alienation of Leaders must somehow be minimized. If that is not possible, and I, nor Mr. Guinness, do not mean this in a military context, there will be a revolution, which is one of the solutions Guinness mentions. As discussed above, Time plays a role in how freedoms evolve. Rules about horse-drawn carts and equine travel within the city have no application today. Technology has created massive changes in how we live and what freedoms we have. Social media sites that block messages THEY determine to be offensive are violating free-speech principles. Free speech dictates no one has the right to not be offended whether in a family or society!
There has and will continue to be mini revolutions as new generations evolve because third and fourth generations of a family have different needs, wants, and ideas than their great grandparents had. These amicable revolutions; however, must be governed by his second solution; application of the Freedom Triangle if they are to maintain civility. Shared virtues and faith in the people and systems and laws must be the foundation on which freedom is achieved, realizing that everyone must sacrifice some individual freedoms to benefit the whole unit. To accomplish our Family Wealth Leadership mission, we believe a family and society is better served if each individual gives up their freedom to inherit wealth in favor of operating a family office and family foundation that can expand everyone’s freedoms and experience greater significance and purpose.
The third solution is Restoration of Civic Education. Guinness meant this in terms of revisiting and educating every generation and every citizen and legal immigrant on the founding principles and history of our republic and the duties associated with being an American citizen. This is equally applicable to families and family businesses. “If we do not learn from our history, we are doomed to repeat it!” Families must intentionally, constantly, and actively engage in Restoration of Family Education. What does it mean and what are the responsibilities and benefits of being a member of our family? What freedoms do we want everyone to have and what freedoms must individuals sacrifice to benefit the family entity? Membership has its privileges, but also its responsibilities.
“Freedom is not the permission to do what you like; it is the power to do what you OUGHT to do.”[ii]
“Remember this, keep it in mind, take it to heart. . . Remember the former things, those of long ago. . .” “When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me.” “You need only to be strong and courageous and to obey to the letter every law Moses gave you, for if you are careful to obey every one of them, you will be successful in everything you do. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”[iii]
[i] Os Guinness speaking at The Union League Club, September 13, 2012
[iii] Isaiah 46:8-9; Hosea 13:6; Joshua 1:7-9; Living Bible and NIV versions.
Kip Kolson is the president of Family Wealth Leadership, a multi-family office and family coaching firm, and author of You Can Have It All; Wealth, Wisdom, and Purpose—Strategies for Creating a Lasting Legacy and Strong Family. You can order your copy at Amazon, the FWL website below, or email firstname.lastname@example.org