The home is also a “business”

By Antonio Argandoña

On 10 October the Home Renaissance Foundation held a meeting at IESE Business School, Barcelona, Spain, to launch the book The Home: Multidisciplinary Reflections, which was published last March. Instead of the standard presentation of the contents of the book, this session consisted of a brief presentation and a round table discussion on the part of academics, publicity agents, professionals and parents, talking about the home as a business. The following is a brief summary of my opening presentation.

Book HRF

A business is an organisation, and the home is also an organisation, i.e. a group of people working together for some common goals that will benefit all of them, though probably for different reasons. This definition contains five key elements:

  1. The people. In a business everyone is usually, though not always, there because they want to be. Participation in the home is not always voluntary: small children, for instance, cannot decide whether or not to remain at home. What matters is that in a business and a home alike, everyone counts: the family members, those who help from within it and from outside, relations and neighbours… all of them are shareholders, directors, employees, suppliers and clients.
  2. In a business each person has his or her own reasons for being there. The employees, for example, may wish to be paid, learn, improve their career, have a good time, make friends, etc. The same is true of a family, but here it is very important that all of them are at least to some extent prepared to do things for one another.
  3. Shared objectives. In a business, the central aim is the actual existence of the business, because everyone obtains from it what they need: clients receive goods or services, the employees receive pay, training and a career, the owners receive profit. The home is an organisation with multiple purposes: reproduction, nutrition, training, care, physical and psychological security, acquisition of an identity; plus restaurant, school, hospital, playground… a place to live, develop skills and talents, grow in knowledge, capacity, build attitudes, values, and virtues… and also learn to “replicate” the organisation, i.e. form another home in due course.
  4. Intentional participation, because, in the words of a colleague of mine, “the necessary and sufficient condition for an organisation to exist in reality is that there is a set of people who are motivated to belong to that organisation, with all that their membership implies. The organisation should aim to maintain and strengthen their motivation, without which the organisation would disintegrate.” When one member starts to think that he or she would rather be somewhere else, the home begins to break up.
  5. Coordination and direction are also needed. In the context of the home this is not necessarily hierarchical, or necessarily democratic: it probably changes over time. What matters is that everyone feels involved in this coordination, each according to his or her possibilities. The baby’s involvement consists of crying, laughing, eating and dirtying its nappies, because all of that is what motivates the rest to take on their respective responsibilities.

To sum up: a home is an organisation that one is always (or almost always) part of, sometimes without explicitly deciding to be. It is a community of persons each with their own reasons for being there, but above all, with an interest in the home’s fulfilling its function and continuing to exist; and it can be replicated in new places, albeit with changes. The key of a home lies in its members’ readiness to work together with others, including people from outside, to make it a place of training in knowledge, abilities, attitudes, dispositions, values and virtues, in regard to different family members at different times. And meanwhile the home offers services to its members, which are an opportunity to live together and fulfil that particular function. The home is an excuse for living together. For that to happen, everyone needs to be prepared to do everything when the time comes: each is necessary, and each member has to find his or her role at each moment. I explained this with a phrase of my own: in the home, each member has to be ready to iron an egg or fry a shirt.

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Calls for a ‘digital detox’ in the home

There’s no denying that the internet is immensely useful – connecting young people with their friends and with just a few clicks, a world of information comes to our screens. But as most of us have discovered, it comes at a price – it’s hugely addictive!

We all know people who just seem unable to look away from their devices and see so many youngsters today absorbed by their phones as they walk along the street. Their eyes become glazed and it takes a lot to peel them away from tablets, laptops or smartphones. Technology is controlling us rather than the other way round. The only way to keep it in check is a digital detox at least once a week where everyone puts away their devices and speaks to each other, before we risk turning into social recluses. And where does most training begin? Naturally, in the home – it’s where our core values are nurtured and reach fruition.  It calls for a day a week when the family sit down together and chat or go out for a walk come rain or shine, when we challenge ourselves to achieve something rather than retire to the comfort of the smartphone when the forecast doesn’t look too bright.

According to Dr Tim Elmore, Founder of ‘Growing Leaders’, an organisation dedicated to mentoring young people to become the leaders of tomorrow, parents need to stop mollycoddling their children. They have to teach youngsters to possess true “grit” if they are to survive the digital era of instant communication, where everything happens at the click of a switch and people can feel overwhelmed by the demands being made of them. Dr Elmore, whose two children both suffered severe bouts of anxiety as they were growing up even though they came from a “healthy” home, states in his book ‘Stressed Out’ that today’s adolescents are “overcommitted”, “overexposed” and “overprotected.”

“Parents have often nurtured them, coddled them, and done a much better job protecting than preparing their kids for the world that awaits them as adults. We’ve prepared the path for the child instead of the child for the path. It would be easy to assume this is only true for adolescents from very busy and affluent areas….. but it’s happening everywhere,” says Dr Elmore.

“One could argue we should be the happiest, most well-adjusted people in history with more technology, more conveniences, more stress-saving devices available than ever. Sadly we seem to be more depressed than previous generations. Times in the past were simpler and we expected to get less done during the days, we attempted less during any given day. All of the clutter and expectations are catching up on us. There are lots of things screaming at us to stimulate us –so when we are experiencing periods that are not stimulating we can feel down,” he said.

He recommends that the quickest steps children can take to maintain happy lives is to have “margin” in their days. “Those who are emotionally healthy are those who create margin in their calendar,” he says. “They schedule portions of their day to create space. They remove noise and clutter during those portions of the time. They experience solitude, quietness, simplicity. They take control of their day instead of remaining at the mercy of the busyness going on.”

According to neuroscientists, it’s when we’re bored that we can be most creative. So let’s all ‘unplug’ periodically, show more empathy and use our imagination to greater effect!

Judge for yourself! 

This is very simple. You don’t need anyone to tell you whether or not you’re managing your home well. You already know.

untidy

Open the door, observe and answer the following questions:

  1. Do you and your partner form a solid, respectful union, apart from the inevitable bickering that most couples succumb to? Are you capable of solving the day to day problems that arise in the home and tackling together the more serious issues?
  2. Do you both share the responsibilities and household tasks? The amount you each do doesn’t necessarily have to be equal in percentage terms but simply the distribution of tasks that best work for you in your home.
  3. Does communication flow well between all the members of the household?
  4. What is not working? Think about it without kidding yourself. Can you solve those problems with the participation and collaboration of your children? Don’t forget that the home belongs to all those who inhabit it, although adults have more responsibilities than younger members of the household. Remember that teamwork is always the best solution!
  5. As parents, and remembering yourselves as children, do you feel that your children are growing up in a true home?
  6. Is there anything in your home that you think could be improved? It doesn’t consist in thinking of an idyllic home as an example, because all of us would want a bigger or better-located house, with more light, more rooms or a larger kitchen or with a butler to serve us! Simply think of your home –  is that the place where all its members (parents, children, grandparents) are loved for what they are and receive the necessary and basic attention to grow and develop as human beings?
  7. Finally, do you think that your home is that place you always look forward to returning to?

If the answer to this last question is yes, congratulations. You’re building that home that everybody deserves and many don’t have.

If the answer is no, don’t feel overwhelmed, everything has a solution, it’s just looking for someone to guide us in what we are not good at and trying to improve it. There are no magic formulas, those tips that work in some houses, might not work in others. The key is to detect and recognise that something is wrong and get the proper diagnosis.

After all, the home is the first community we belong to and the most important company of our life. Let’s take good care of it!

The culture of the workplace has its roots in the home

By Rosemary Roscoe

I’m not normally given to public airings about private matters but I can’t help speaking about this one.
I’ve recently been treated for colon cancer at Luton and Dunstable University Hospital, one of the best performing NHS hospitals in the country – and you can see why.
I was given an appointment at the hospital just over a week after my GP requested fast track treatment. A few days later I had a colonoscopy and soon after the biopsy results came through the operation went ahead.
Thanks to the superb skills of a leading Consultant Laparoscopic Colorectal Surgeon and the medical team who performed the challenging 7 hour partial colectomy, the operation was a great success. I was discharged after 3 days and almost back to my normal self within a couple of weeks.

During those few days recovering on the ward I was impressed by how graciously doctors, nurses, health care assistants and physiotherapists attended to every need of some very poorly patients, treating them with such dignity. And their willingness to help each other was reassuring to witness. You would hear someone call out “I’m going to need help moving my patient” and immediately help was at hand. Staying in bed too long was actively discouraged for your own good, with the enhanced recovery team gently coaxing you out of it and into a chair the next day and later on inviting you to walk along the corridor to get the circulation moving.

The nursing staff were constantly monitoring your blood pressure, temperature and oxygen level, administering drips and painkillers or antibiotics, changing dressings and checking how much you had drunk so far that day. Without exception they were professional and polite and remained cheerful throughout their 12 hour shifts. The healthcare assistants were also wonderful – attentively filling up jugs of water, offering hot drinks, asking what you would like to eat, giving bed baths, emptying catheters and drains, putting clean sheets on the bed.

The medical staff appeared to not get a minute’s peace – one nurse worked all weekend while her husband looked after their young child and did night shifts during the week to save on childcare costs. One of the nurses on night shift was heavily pregnant and another worked permanent nights – and yet they were so positive and self-giving.

Their wages are low, hours are long, work often arduous but they choose to work for the NHS. Why? Because they know that what they’re doing is worthwhile and they are people imbued with a deep sense of service who genuinely care about the welfare of others.

Many of the staff were of African or Asian descent and you could tell by the respectful way they spoke to everyone around them that they had come from loving homes where they had been taught patience and understanding and the need to help others. The nurturing that stems from the home clearly must influence the way people work and make a big difference to the health and wellbeing of society as a whole.

What is HRF?

We would like to start by telling you what HRF is from scratch. This does not mean that all we have said to date is invalid, we simply want to restate. For 12 years, we have generated a lot of information resulting from our research, and we now want to make it available more widely. We also want to take advantage of our new, improved website and we are bringing it to your attention so that you can use it when necessary. Let’s begin!

1. What is HRF? An International Think Tank based in London. Sometimes, another immediate question follows: What is a think tank? A laboratory of ideas that launches lines of thought into society.

2. What is HRF’s aim? We seek a ‘social revolution’ in the home environment or as our slogan says: we want to renew the culture of the home.

3. What does that mean? Well, homes are very important for society and many people have neglected them for some time, so we want to encourage people to return to giving homes all the attention and care they deserve.

4. How are you going to achieve this ‘social revolution’? We have two clear lines of action: theory and practice.
The theory is simply to demonstrate through research with academic institutions and prestigious disciplines, the importance for society of the work involved in running a home, for example, for the health of its members or the global economy. For this reason, we do research and organize Experts Meetings, Symposiums, Academic Conferences or Policy Events. We think it is the most appropriate way to put the issue on the public agenda and open the dialogue with policymakers.
The practical part is what allows us to influence the reality. Based on the information obtained in the research we have conducted and knowing people with expertise in the ‘day to day’ of the home, we train all those who want to learn about or want to improve, the management of their home to build a happy home little by little.

5. And why do you think a think tank like yours is necessary? Simply because the figures show the following:

– Increase in mental disorders in children
– Increase in malnutrition
– Increase in the number of grandparents living in care homes
– Reduction in families who eat home-cooked food
– Increase in the number of hours children spend alone in front of the television or other screens
– Fall in reading among the younger population
– Reduction in the time that parents spend with their children
– The difficulty of work/life balance.

This scenario could make us feel very guilty or push us to blame society in general, but it would be useless. The good thing about stopping to analyse and observe the problem is that we can diagnose it and try to solve it.

Neither the migration of women into work, nor the appearance of new technologies, nor other external factors are the problem, they are simply new actors with whom we will be living for the foreseeable future. And we should simply adapt to the circumstances, and train as well as possible, to use all those new resources in the most efficient way in the management of our homes.

And that’s why HRF is working every day. To detect problems and try to offer solutions through dissemination, training and dialogue.

Now, we hope you understand what HRF is doing. Then, if it seems appropriate, let people know, tell all those who think they may need a little help in the management of their home. And tell us what aspect or area of the home you are worried about, and we will try to investigate it, to demonstrate to the world the importance of the work involved in building a home.

Feel good food

With all the hoo-ha about hormones and antibiotics in our meat, it’s hardly surprising that ‘flexitarianism’ is the new vogue. ‘Flexitarians’ apparently eat a vegetarian diet most of the time but splash out on ethically sourced organic meat occasionally.

Addressing the 4th International Conference ‘The Home, a place of growth, care and wellbeing’ at the Royal Society of Medicine in London in November, Dr Timothy Harlan emphasised the proven health benefits of a Mediterranean diet. It traditionally composes of very little meat, some fish, fermented dairy, wholegrain, pulses and an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables. American Professor Michael Greger goes a step further claiming that all meat and dairy are bad for us – as harmful to our health even as smoking! Others advocate a ‘paleo’ diet consisting of food that early civilizations hunted or gathered such as lean meat, eggs, fruit, nuts and seeds.

Whatever our food fads, with grocery deliveries direct to our doorstep and hosts of online recipes boasting hearty meals in half an hour,  it’s never been so quick and easy to prepare nutritious home-cooked dinners. And it doesn’t have to break the budget to eat healthily – a shopping bag full of vegetables can be bought for the price of just one ready meal. Meat and fish may be expensive but if you can stomach the alternatives such as lentils, beans and soya products they’re a fraction of the price and quick to prepare with many dried pulses not requiring any pre-soaking.

The secret is in planning ahead –  deciding menus at least a week in advance means it’s not much trouble to turn out tasty dishes in no time and sit down to a relaxing meal with family or friends.

Event at the House of Commons

The launch of the Global Home Index results will take place on November 6th at the House of Commons in London. Due to the General Election, the event had to be rescheduled and we would like to thank MS. Fiona Bruce, member of Parliament for her hosting and giving us this opportunity. It will be an honour to present the findings of this international research in order to show the reality of the work of the home in the United Kingdom and around of the world.

So far, United States, Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, El Salvador, Portugal, Italy or Spain are only some of the countries where HRF and our two main partners have presented this first report.

We are very pleased to announce that the lawyer Mrs. Miriam González Durántez, Mr. Nick Clegg´s wife, will be our honorary speaker. She is co-chair of the firm’s International Trade and Government Regulation practice at Dechert.

More than 9,000 people from 94 countries across 5 continents participated in this Global Home Index study which you can find here. This first report is a comparative study of 20 countries on the recognition of the work of the home. Please click here to participate, your view makes a valid contribution to society.

Agenda

  • 1.30-2.45pm.: Light lunch refreshments

Jubilee Room at House of Commons

  • 2.45-4.14pm.: For Presentation & Discussion

Committee Room 16 at House of Commons

Less is more, or not!

The more children you have, the less quality of life? Think again!
I have a friend who is something else. I don’t usually brag about friendships but I can’t help giving this dear friend a special mention.  Regardless of the particular country where I happen to be working or visiting, the circle of friends in which I find myself – be it a family reunion or a discussion about children and family life – my friend immediately springs to mind. Some people call her and her husband crazy but I haven’t noticed a constant stream of what might be classed ‘sensible’ people in my travels.

Each time she says she has a big announcement to make, you know in your heart it must be the news she has been sharing with us for a number of years – that they are expecting another baby. They now have 9 children – and as you come to get to know each child, your whole perception of what it means to be part of a large family changes.

The first comment people usually make when I talk about the family is “Of course they will surely be from some radical religious group?” And I am amused because my answer is, “I don’t know or care, but what I do know is that they belong to a group of people who possess a quality we should all imitate -generosity.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean that their like-minded group of friends have equally large families but, economics aside,  they are all generous and give of themselves completely. I might not pass that test of sheer selflessness.

When you walk through their front door it immediately feels like a home. The first thing that hits you is the buzz and vibrancy of children offering to help. The disorder expected is non existent as everyone has a designated role to play, something they’ve been taught from a young age. Their five-year-old was setting the table, taking dishes from the cupboard at his height level and carefully arranging the knives and forks on the table. I could have offered to do it for him but I thought better of it.

There’s no need to speak about equality in this house because clearly, their home belongs to everyone. Their sons and daughters divide the chores equally and both parents manage to work outside the home, neither having to give up their chosen profession.

People often ask me if they have lots of nannies and are rich to afford so many children. The answer is negative to both those questions. But sometimes I don’t even bother to answer as it’s clear that, even after explaining everything, they still don’t understand that a team of 11 is much stronger than a team of just 3 – for prejudices of this nature are hard-wired into the human brain.

 

Fine Dining? Living At-home Culinary Culture

 

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How much does it cost to go to a really swanky restaurant? Fifty pounds a head? A hundred? You can certainly see why the authors of a new study, suggest that people now plan and save for a lovely dinner prepared under the aegis of a top chef.
 
The author, a Cambridge university academic, speculates that so seriously do diners take their forays into the world of fine dining, that they are prepared to set cash aside for it, in much the same way they would for a holiday.
 
Wow. Is a good dinner really worth taking that seriously? Are there really people out there who think some appetising nosebag is up there with a week at the beach? Maybe there are, and each to their own etc.
 
But the guiding spirit of thrift moves me to ask – is it worth it? The author says her respondents – 40 celebrated chefs – liken the occasion of going to a top restaurant to a trip to the theatre; a cultural, rather than a strictly gastronomical, experience.
 
Which rather sets the cant-detector off. Because the whole drift of the food industry – the cult of the celebrity TV chef, the library of cooking books, the magazines, the faux intellectualism – is predicated on a love of food; principally – its taste.
 
Yet a ‘cultural experience’ is more than how the taste buds are responding. It’s about what we see, who sees us, what status we derive from being observed in a fashionable milieu. All well and good. But nothing to do with the grub. If the food is good, it tastes good whether it’s at home or in SW1.
 
But it does behove one question for those of us trying to think hard about the role of the home. To what extent should we seek to mimic that ‘cultural experience’ at home – for a fraction of the cost?
 
Does shrewd home-making rely on a monthly menu which picks out red letter days? If money is tight, does lighting a couple of candles at the dining table really recreate an evening with Raymond Blanc? Obviously not. Part of eating out is the adventure of ‘going out’. However, there is still something to be said for apeing the conventions of fine dining – at home.
 
This is not to suggest hiring a maitre d’ to work the front of (your) house. But a bit of spit and polish, breaking out the candle-sticks, foldling a couple of napkins, some music; all can help a dinner stand out. And there might still be money left for a summer break.

Emblematic Extravagance: The Homes of Strongmen

Opinion Piece -By Joanna Roughton

We have been here before. From Baghdad to Bucharest, from Saddam Hussain to Nicolae Ceaucescu. Tyrants or strongmen, forced from office, whose homes become emblematic of the corruption and extravagance of the ancien regime.

The latest home to be held up to this strange scrutiny belongs to  , the – seemingly – now former president of Ukraine.

Since he fled Kiev, scores of ordinary citizens, as well as photographers and journalists, have been wandering at will around the enormous house he kept an hour’s drive from the capital. There is marble and gold, chandeliers and ball-rooms. There is a golf course, a zoo, even a fake Spanish galleon. The list goes on; a litany of profligacy.

What is it about the men who exploit their countries in a fashion so predictable there is even a word – kleptocracy – to define their style of misgovernance?

And what is it that makes them want to make their home such a garish exemplification of their rule?

Because there does seem to be an identifiable stereotype here. The world is full of wealthy property owners who want their show home to be a statement of their success, their taste – or sometimes – want of it.

But there does appear to be something very particular in the way that dictators do decor. In the gaucheness so abundantly obvious in the home-cum-palace of Yanukovitch, you can almost sense the megalomaniac’s insecurity. It is money spent in a rush, splashed-out at the instruction of a man for whom money is no object, who knows that one day the mob will come crashing through the front gates.

These are homes designed to strike awe into apparatchiks, to intimidate visitors and reassure cronies. They signal to fellow travellers that they are backing the right horse. “Look at this place,” it almost screams, “stay with me and such lavishness can be yours too”.

Such a home is not designed to be comfortable. If there is an architectural purpose – it is to be credible. In the same way that the builders of bank branches would flirt with classical design, doric pillars and the like, to inculcate a belief in customers that there could never be a run on such an august institution.

A home like the one so recently vacated by Victor Yanukovitch, and his hangers-on, is not homely. They are the product of millions extorted or siphoned from the masses. And sometimes, when the putsch comes, it is to the people that they are returned.