The New York Times recently ran a stunning report: “Parents Got More Time Off; Then the Backlash Started.” The article detailed how America’s wealthiest tech companies unintentionally “created a rift between parents offered more benefits” this year “and resentful workers who don’t have children.” Haves weren’t fighting have-nots; it was a whining match among lots of have-a-lots.
The tech companies’ stocks are soaring – and they coddle their workers. Facebook grants up to three health days off without requiring doctors’ notes, while offering unlimited sick days, 21 vacation days, and 30 days of emergency leave if relatives need care. But when Facebook gave parents ten extra weeks off this year, while suspending their stringent performance reviews, many nonparent Grumblestiltskins recoiled, claiming it was “unfair.”
As one of the Corona-privileged — old enough to have kids on their own, yet young enough not to be too Corona-vulnerable — I empathize deeply with my friends with younger children. My peers and I frequently discuss how trying this period has been for them – and imagine what it would have been like for us, with our kids, no matter how charming, locked down for months. We help our friends with young children however we can – cutting whatever professional breaks we can for them. So watching such selfishness, jealousy, smallness, in America’s flagship corporations, is upsetting.
Upsetting yet not surprising.
Contrasting parents and their childless peers is an age-old pastime. One Jewish classic describes two brothers sleepless at night during harvest-time. The childless one worries that his brother has so many mouths to feed. The one with kids worries that his unmarried brother will be alone when old. Each one sneaks out to move some wheat from his pile to his brother’s. So the piles mysteriously remain equal. It happens again. On the third night, the two brothers collide, understand the magic, and embrace.
Tradition teaches that Solomon built the Holy Temple on that hill epitomizing brotherly love. Some reverse the story, with each brother stealing from one another, then joke: “on that spot, Israelis built the Knesset.” Now, we will update it to mourn, “on that spot Silicon Valley took root.”
That’s not the America I grew up in. I’m too much the historian, chronicling brigands and cheats, not just heroes and saints, to overly-romanticize America at any stage. Still, I was surrounded by shirt-off-your-back kind of people. Especially this week, as I mourn the loss of two of my parents’ closest friends — Morty Panzer three months ago and his wife Barbara last week – I salute the upright, generous role models of my childhood.
The Troys and the Panzers bonded at Champlain Colony, a bungalow colony attracting schoolteachers six hours north of “the City” – they couldn’t afford the Catskills’ scene.
Over 100 people lived for two months in ramshackle wooden huts, sharing one communal telephone, by Lake Champlain’s polluted waters. It didn’t matter. We were steeped in big-heartedness and a selflessness these chip-on-your-shoulder techies cannot imagine. It was instant family, community-for-life, intertwining people with limited means but unlimited hearts. They didn’t just distract one another for the summer – they took care of each other till their dying breaths.
During these polarizing times, it’s tempting to say “The fish stinks from the head down” – and blame the techies’ selfishness on the corrupter-in-chief, the grabby, greedy, graceless egomaniac occupying the White House. But those techies are overwhelmingly Democrats – and aggressively “woke.” Studies estimate that 87 percent of Facebook employees’ political contributions and 100 percent of Twitters’ bankroll left-wingers. Even Twitters’ CEO Jack Dorsey called his company so liberal that conservatives “don’t feel safe to express their opinions.”
Hipster careerists are often as self-involved as Trumpians: they just mask it better. The Marxist-infused Woke culture – forever-cultivating your sense of injury, branding any disagreements “violent,” and canceling deviants, is Hobbesian, dog-eat-dog, asserting dominance by affirming your victimhood. When fused with Go-Getter Western culture and consumer culture’s hyper-individualist me-me-me, my-my-my, more-more-more, now-now-now graspiness, monstrous narcissists proliferate, not just creative capitalists.
Awash in cash, Silicon Valley can usually bribe everyone into cooperating. But the slightest glitch, the first mild, totally-justified, “inequities” aWOKE too many techies’ inner spoiled brats, insensitive to the pandemic’s challenges.
This is not a lazy political commentary saying everyone’s equally rotten.
Instead, it’s a wall-to-wall call to spiritual arms, moral build-up, communal reformation. Always blaming your political rivals for our problems is cheap – and tedious. This Jewish New Year, may we transform the irresponsible culture of finger-pointing we have mastered – Left and Right – into a culture of breast-beating. Beyond scrutinizing our values, impulses, and actions, Teshuva – repentance – requires a deeper dive. Let’s scrutinize ourselves politically, culturally, communally, structurally – asking: how do we raise armies of shirt-off-your-back givers not chip-on-your-shoulder whiners and takers?
Fortunately, Jews have a liturgy, a tradition, a library, a civilization, a conversation stretching back millennia, encouraging self-reflection, then solidarity, then magnanimity. Calling these spiritually-stretching moments “High Holidays” distracts us, focusing on what we wear, what we eat, what we can’t do this Corona-cursed year. Calling them “Days of Awe” nurtures humility, sensitivity, empathy – and excitement about this year’s spiritual opportunities.
And seek inspiring role models, people like the Panzers and my late mother and still-strong father. They didn’t see every pie as limited, fearing everyone else’s slice as diminishing their take. Viewing the universe as ever-expanding, they believed more is more – the more you give, the more you get. Forever giving, they absorbed America, Judaism, life at their best.
Recently designated one of Algemeiner’s J-100, one of the top 100 people “positively influencing Jewish life,” Gil Troy is the author of the newly-released The Zionist Ideas , an update and expansion of Arthur Hertzberg’s classic anthology The Zionist Idea, published by the Jewish Publication Society and a 2019 National Jewish Book Award Finalist.. A Distinguished Scholar of North American History at McGill University,and the author of nine books on American History, his book, Never Alone: Prison, Politics and My People, co-authored with Natan Sharansky was just published by PublicAffairs of Hachette.