A Society That Could Really Use A St. Valentine
By Robert E. Hall
St. Valentine was a third century priest martyred for marrying soldiers at a time when Roman Emperor Claudius II had decreed single men made better soldiers. Other lore suggests St. Valentine was killed for attempting to help Christians escape Roman prisons where they were tortured. Regardless of its exact roots, Valentine’s Day honors loving relationships – romantic, platonic, familial, or collegial.
About those loving relationships, even though our Valentine’s Day expressions keep growing – over 150 million Valentine cards to be sent this year – the depth, duration, and number of authentic relationships they celebrate, keep shrinking.
The numbers reflect a flight from relationship – at home, work, in politics and faith – that is stunning: At home, marriage is down 50 percent, divorce has doubled, and in 2012 over 50 percent of children born were to unwed mothers (under 30) – at five times the poverty rates of their married counterparts. Our number of close friends, according to the American Sociological Review, has declined by a third in the past two decades and those with no close friends have tripled.
At work employee turnover of skilled and management positions in the five years prior to the recession of 2008 doubled and since the recession, high unemployment has isolated large numbers of former employed from work colleagues. Customer defections rose 30 percent in recent years and today 86 percent of consumers trust corporations less than five years ago.
Defection from political parties has doubled in the past 50 years and Standard & Poor’s cited political gridlock as a primary factor in downgrading our credit rating from AAA. The exodus from religious affiliation has also doubled in the past 20 years.
Yet, the broad, systemic nature of our relational unraveling has often been under-reported because relationship information is siloed – making it hard to connect the dots. Social scientists study family and community, business experts focus on organization relationships, political scientists analyze politics and theologians study our connections to organized religion. The only thing more fragmented than our relationships is our reporting about them.
Yes, we could use a relationship advocate like St. Valentine these days. Wonder what he might advise? First I think he would conclude that the cumulative effect of our relationship decline is a larger, more costly problem than we admit. He might even call it a “relationship cliff.” He might present evidence that relationships are our most valuable and value-creating resource: depression among divorced men is six times and among divorced women 3.5 times greater than among their married counterparts. Men with “bad bosses” are 20-40 percent more likely to suffer heart attacks. Male heart attack victims who return home to live alone are four times more likely to die from a second heart attack than those who live with others.
He might cite Gallup research that business units scoring above the median in relational engagement with customers and employees perform 3.4 times higher on a key set of financial measures. And, that FORTUNE’S “100 Best Companies to Work For” have been shown to produce four times the returns of their counterparts over seven years. He might remind us customers with strong relational connections have 49 percent higher retention rates, recommend providers twice as often and purchase 46 percent more than those merely satisfied. He might warn that it is unrealistic to think we can have better lives and a stronger society on the back of crumbling relationships.
Second, she might observe that no one started out 50 years ago with the intention to undermine our relationships. Rather powerful advancements – like breakthrough technology – have yielded unintended consequences. No surprise that isolation is a big problem when our 8-18 year-olds average seven hours and 38 minutes per day on their devices and active internet households experience 70 less minutes of interaction per day. Hence, the American Academy of Pediatrics has coined the term Facebook Depression and Menninger Clinic now diagnoses and treats Technology Addiction.
Even worse, is the use of technology to wound others through the vitriol of cyber-bullying, talk radio, cable TV and the blogosphere. Unfortunately the research shows that beyond a certain point more information increases our confidence and possibly our arrogance, but not our discernment. As the head of software development at my old company used to say, “if you give a fool a faster tool, what you get is a faster fool.” Technology has made us all faster fools.
Finally, St. Valentine would advocate making relationships a higher, more strategic priority in our lives. He would advise “relationship leadership” that budgets relationship time as assiduously as we budget our dollars – to ensure we are “investing” in relationships.
Author John Ortberg has said, “it is better to eat Twinkies together, than to eat broccoli alone.” Unfortunately, the Twinkies organization has had really sour management/labor disputes and is in bankruptcy. If we don’t get our act together, we are headed for “relationship-ruptcy.” Today is a good time to follow the martyred St. Valentine and recommit to our most precious resource – our relationships.
Robert Hall is a noted author, consultant, and speaker on relationships. He is the author of This Land of Strangers: The Relationship Crisis That Imperils Home, Work, Politics and Faith. www.RobertEHall.com.