It was sometime in the 80's, I think, that a well-meaning friend recommended the book Tough Love to me, thinking it would help in guiding my somewhat headstrong young daughter through the "difficult years."
I glanced over the basic principles of the thing and saw that it entailed writing up a business plan for parenting, a contract between parent and child, outlining each of their responsibilities, and prescribing rewards and punishments.
My gut response was that love is tough enough. I didn't need to write up a contract on it. Looking back on it, I do sometimes wish I had been a little tougher on her in the matter of cleaning her room, but given her nature and mine I don't see how any lasting good would have come from that either.
What makes me think of those days these days is the recurring analogy of government to business. How government should run itself like a business, in that the bottom line should always be solvency. A balanced budget is touted as the highest aspiration of good government.
I say good government is more than that. Just as love is more than a clean room, good government concerns itself first and foremost with the well being of the people being governed.
The business of a library consists of providing access to its resources to the public. The business of the postal system is the timely delivery of the mail. The business of the fire department is saving lives and property from destruction. The business of social services is to see that our citizens do not suffer undue hardship. The business of education is to - well - educate.
This is not to say that the functions of government should not be run in as efficient and cost-effective a manner as possible. But it is to say that their efficiency and cost-effectiveness should be measured by the manner in which they deliver on their mandate.
I don't know how cost-effective a contract with my daughter would have been in the matter of room-cleaning. I have a sneaky feeling it would only have resulted in more pointless fights and arguments. I do know that somehow she has emerged as an intelligent, funny and kind individual. Moreover, she is also one who will work her heart out at any job she decides to take on. Which, I think, was the point of the entire enterprise.
My mandate was to produce that person as well as I could. The fact that she still doesn't clean her room - well. I guess it wasn't all that important to begin with.