I want a boss like Martin Sheen (and I always thought he’d make a good president too!) Just saw the movie, Imagine That. Okay, so now you know I belong to a dollar-movie family.
In the movie, Evan Danielson, (Eddie Murphy) is a hard-driving financial consultant with a charming daughter, Olivia (Yara Shahidi). He discovers Olivia’s imaginary world when she spends a week with him⎯it’s obvious he has neglected his child and exasperated his ex-wife. He almost allows Olivia and her imagination to become a means to an end. Olivia’s creativity inspires him to reach fantastic career goals, and he benefits from the encounter with her imaginative way of looking at life while continuing a chase for the Almighty Dollar. At the last minute, he realizes she comes first, and he walks out of a business meeting (on a Saturday) to the shock and surprise of his colleagues. The purpose for Danielson’s exit is to attend Olivia’s school choir program. Coincidentally, Olivia regains her faith in her dad and has a significant “growing-up” experience that he would have otherwise missed. In the storybook ending, Dante D’Enzo, a mega-millionaire businessman, (Martin Sheen), locates Danielson and gives him a fantastic job, partly because D’Enzo admires Danielson’s devotion to his daughter.
The points made in the movie are very timely for our overworked American society. The tendency of adults, to chase after career goals and think that maintenance and nurturing of family and social relationships can be postponed, is widespread. And this postponing, even for what seems a short time, can result in unrecoverable loss.
But, here’s the clincher. We can’t all work for Martin Sheen. Many adults find themselves looking at an all-or-nothing deal when it comes to employment. A movie can portray a guy who refuses to work on a Saturday, walks out of a business presentation, and gets an even better job (or at least still keeps his old one), but few real-life employees feel they can refuse any demand an employer might make, including pay or benefit cuts!
In his thought-provoking book, The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism, Richard Sennett discussed the possibility that the way our society has structured employment policies has led to many of the social ills we witness around us. Our inclination is to blame the individuals involved⎯Tom and Mary just didn’t have the commitment to keep their marriage together; Joe just didn’t have the willpower to beat his alcoholism; Roger simply placed his career ambitions ahead of his kids so they became delinquents. But what if Roger’s workplace demanded 60 hours per week and the alternative was no job at all, no health care or hope for college for the kids, and no home (no matter how modest) for the family?
It is tempting to say, “If only Roger’s boss were like Martin Sheen (the mythical Dante D’Enzo)”. But bosses can blame stockholders for the unrelenting pressure to keep profits up. Stockholders can claim a need for a secure retirement in the face of rising costs, especially for medical care. Doctors can point to frivolous lawsuits. And we all know what they say about attorneys!
It is easy to see fault in individuals (other than ourselves). More difficult, is knowing how to deal with a system where everything appears to be out of control and out of balance. Paul Tillich said this:
Man is supposed to be the master of his world and of himself. But actually he has become a part of the reality which he has created. He is an object among objects, a thing among things, a cog within a universal machine to which he must adapt himself in order not to be smashed by it. But this adaptation makes him a means for ends which are in reality means themselves, and in which an ultimate end is lacking.
We participate in the system. We are both victim and victimizer, some of us closer to one end of the spectrum than the other. It is beyond me to suggest a way out of the system, but recognizing where we are must surely be a start. Until we find an answer, I still want to work for Martin Sheen.
Arden Rea lives in Oklahoma City.