Is Your Family a Group of Hobbits or a Group of Rangers?
Wednesday, Aug 11th 2010
By David French
Lord of the Rings begins in the bucolic, family-focused good earth of the Shire, where generations of hobbits live the fantasy world version of the “balanced life.” They till the earth. They lift a pint with good friends. They live in family homes (holes, really) passed from generation to generation. But the Shire can’t actually exist without another group of people — a group that Shire-folk look at with suspicion and mistrust: The rangers.
Rangers (like Aragorn) hang out at the borders of the Shire, visiting only occasionally, and spending their time keeping all the nasty things at bay. They battle the orcs and trolls continually, fighting to keep the Shire oh so very Shire-ish. And they do it without any real thanks because it’s the right thing to do and because they want the world to be the kind of place that is safe enough, prosperous enough, to contain a Shire.
I think I offended a group of very fine, upstanding law students.
One week ago, I was speaking to a group of students about life in the “big law firm,” and I told them that one of their responsibilities was to “work like a rabid dog.” (I don’t know if rabid dogs are particularly hard working, but I like the image of a snarling, foaming-at-the-mouth young lawyer restrained from attacking the next pile of documents only by the chain on his ankle). Then I told them that they should not be “that guy” or “that girl” who leaves their colleagues at a critical moment because their kid’s soccer game is just So. Darn. Important. “That guy” makes people like me miss OUR kids’ games to make up for their lost work. “You’re in a community,” I said, “A community made up of your fellow lawyers, paralegals, and the secretaries, and you have responsibilities to that community just as you do to your next-door neighbor, to your fellow church members, or to any other part of the world.”
I didn’t stop there. “Lawyers work hard. They just do. There’s no magic bullet for the balanced lifestyle — whatever a balanced lifestyle means — instead, make sure your spouse and children are on the same page with you, that you’re united in your family’s collective and individual callings, and that you support each other as you confront the financial world, or any other part of the world you engage.”
From the looks on their faces and from the reaction of some students afterward, you would have thought I had placed a pile of kittens in a blender and hit “puree” . . . right in front of them. The comments came flying in.
“Are you really saying that more time with your kids isn’t good?”
“Shouldn’t we all be ‘that guy,’ and isn’t it your fault that you’re willing to stay late?”
“Look, I’ll stay 10 or 15 minutes late to wrap things up, but I’m just not going to sacrifice my family by working late.” (I wished him good luck with that philosophy and told him I’d never hire him).
“My family is more important than anything, and I’m not going to work any more than eight or nine until five.” (I told this fellow that “Wal-Mart is hiring.”)
In fact, the comments haven’t stopped. I’m still getting blowback from the talk, a full week later. Someone said that I was “mean.”
And they’re right. I am mean. But that’s beside the point. I may be mean, but I’m right . . . I’m factually right, and — more importantly — I’m morally right. In at least one limited but vitally important sense.
Nothing world-changing has happened within the limited confines of the nine-to-five work week. Nobody can wake up in the morning and say, “I’m dedicating myself and my family to my fellow man, but only so long as I keep exactly the kind of balance that would make my therapist proud.” Eight hours per day can help make one happy (maybe), but is happiness the point? Do we even know in any given day, week, or month what will make us happy over the medium to long term? We think we do, but I know many, many people who get exactly what they want . . . and then find out it wasn’t as great as they thought it would be.
I don’t think so much of happiness as I think of purpose. My purpose. My wife’s purpose. My kids’ purpose. Our purpose. If I may geek out a bit, let me draw analogy from Lord of the Rings. If you recall (and you should), the story begins in the bucolic, family-focused good earth of the Shire, where generations of hobbits live the fantasy world version of the “balanced life.” They till the earth. They lift a pint with good friends. They live in family homes (holes, really) passed from generation to generation. But the Shire can’t actually exist without another group of people — a group that Shire-folk look at with suspicion and mistrust: The rangers. Rangers (like Aragorn) hang out at the borders of the Shire, visiting only occasionally, and spending their time keeping all the nasty things at bay. They battle the orcs and trolls continually, fighting to keep the Shire oh so very Shire-ish. And they do it without any real thanks because it’s the right thing to do and because they want the world to be the kind of place that is safe enough, prosperous enough, to contain a Shire.
To put things more clearly, I think every family has to ultimately ask itself: Are we rangers or hobbits? It really is a family decision, by the way. If a wife wants to live in Hobbiton and the husband heads out to the wild lands, resentment builds in both directions, children feel abandoned without higher purpose, and marriages dissolve in acrimony and bitterness. Stay in the shire until the parents are unified in heart and mind and willing to take on the wild.
Of course, the obvious analogy is the “Shire” of America defended by the rangers (like the literal Rangers in the United States Army) abroad by the terrorists and radicals who seek to kill us all. But our culture lives or dies, prospers or withers, on the basis of much more than force of arms. Liberty at home depends on the courage and perseverance of a small army of police officers, lawyers, and civil rights activists. Economic hope and prosperity depends on entrepreneurs willing to invest their life’s savings, their dreams, and all their energies into new businesses. Even the much-maligned financiers provide capital that makes virtually any economic project of any consequence possible. For every employee drawing sharp lines at 5:00 p.m. there’s a boss or owner who has sacrificed much to create such an idyllic job.
In the past three years, I have spent more than 500 days away from home. More than 300 of those occurred on my deployment to Iraq, but the first full year that I was home, I traveled more than 100 additional days on business. In my civilian life, I’m a free speech and religious liberties lawyer, and liberty is often under attack here at home. I travel too much, and I’m trying to cut back, but there’s also work to be done.
At the same time, however, I’m blessed to have a wife who loves and supports me through all (well, ninety-five percent) of my travel. I’m blessed to have children who understand that “Daddy’s gone” because there are some things that are more important than ourselves, some things are worth fighting for. And I think they might even be a little proud of me. In short, Nancy and I made a decision many years ago that we’d be a family of rangers . . . dedicated to defending the Shire.
As a ranger, I’m not much count. I was a very small cog in a very big machine in Iraq. I labor hard on my cases and try to achieve justice, but it’s a big world out there, and so far my efforts haven’t reached nearly as many people as the efforts of fellow SixSeeds contributors like Tom “Saving Hundreds of Thousands of Lives in Africa” Walsh or Nathan “Inspiring Millions With My Books” Whitaker. And our family’s sacrifice is simply insignificant compared to the ultimate sacrifice made by men I knew and loved in Iraq. We do what we can do, however, and we do it with a common purpose.
When I speak to students, I know that most of them are hobbits, either by choice or destiny. Their lives and purpose will be defined within the four walls of their house, and their thoughts will be dominated by hearth and home. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, and there is a lot to love and admire about such a lifestyle. I want to live in a world that has room for a Shire, and I wish the Shire were larger, so more people could enjoy its bounty. But folks in the Shire need to understand that the life they live wasn’t created by their own virtue and that they are ultimately consumers of the liberty, prosperity, and security provided them at immense cost by the blood, sweat, and tears of others. So enjoy your kid’s soccer game and your five o’clock departure from work, but know that your liberty was bought with blood, your security is maintained with blood, and the degree of prosperity you have is largely created by the generations of risk-takers and hard workers that came before you as well as the boss or owner who works beside you.
As for my wife and me, we thank you for making the Shire such a nice and hospitable place to visit. But we can’t stay for long . . . there’s orcs on the borders.