Home is Where the Heart of Society Is

10 Oct 2018

The recently published The Home: Multidisciplinary Reflections was launched in Barcelona on October 10, with a round table discussion of the enterprise of the home. Editor and chapter author Antonio Argandoña framed the topic for the audience.

The following is a brief summary of Antonio Argandoña’s opening presentation to a large gathering of academics, publicists and professionals who share the goal of giving the home its due as a fundamental source of human capital for society.  The book served as a reference point for the discussion to follow.

A business is an organization, and the home is also an organization, 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 neighbors… 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 organization 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 organization, 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 organization to exist in reality is that there is a set of people who are motivated to belong to that organization, with all that their membership implies. The organization should aim to maintain and strengthen their motivation, without which the organization 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.

In summary: a home is an organization 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. At the same time, the home offers services to its members: an opportunity to live together and fulfil their particular function. The home is an excuse for living together. To construe one, every member must be prepared to do any task when required: each person is necessary, and each must find his or her role at each moment. I illustrated this idea with a phrase of my own: in the home, each member has to be ready and willing to iron an egg or to fry a shirt.

Thanks to the Home Renaissance Foundation for organizing the book launch at IESE Business School.