In previous posts, I’ve started a conversation related to two different ways of seeing and being in the world: what I am calling the social imaginaries of “Economics” versus that of “Oikonomics”. I have tried to articulate what I mean by “Economics” as a way of pursuing financial growth, gain, progress, and prosperity (knowing, of course, that economics means things other than that. I am using it in the common vernacular). In this post, I want to unpack what I mean by “Oikonomics” through juxtaposing one common way of living out “Economics”–the resume, with a way of living out “Oikonomics”–the metaphor of roots.
First, though, let’s talk a little about wealth.
When we hear the word “wealth,” there is an immediate connection to riches, luxuriant lifestyles, penthouses, huge bank accounts, high rise office suites, floor tickets at sporting events, power suits…you get the idea. Wealth, in other words, is associated with financial largess.
We very rarely discuss other ways we might define wealth (relational, emotional, physical, communal, spiritual, etc.). That, I contend, is but one way the social imaginary of economics shapes our very identities. That we associate “wealth” with finances is a sure sign that the paradigm of economics has already shaped our way of seeing and being in the world.
Pursuing economic wealth often comes at the expense of pursuing other forms of wealth; indeed, pursuing economic wealth actually detracts, quite often, from the ability, desire, or potential to be wealthy in these other ways (as I outlined in the previous post), because the pursuit of economic wealth shapes us into certain kinds of beings who hold certain kinds of values who are willing to make sacrifices to obtain economic wealth.
Here, then, is where we get into today’s discussion: Resumes vs Roots.
Resumes, as we all know, are the key to job opportunities. They present the facts of who we are professionally (our education, experiences, skill sets, knowledge, expertise, etc.). They give, in black and white, a history of our identity as workers, employees, business folk. They prove our credentialing and act as our visa into the world of employment.
As such, resumes hold tremendous sway over our identity. They come, over time, to give shape to the most fundamental experiences of our lives (often determining where we live, with whom we will interact, what we will pursue in our leisure time, the depths of our relationships, etc.).
For example, for most of us (myself included), where we live is determined in large part by our resumes. We will relocate to places that enhance our resumes, with little regard to whether or not that particular place is a community in which we wish to engage beyond our jobs. Many of us will sit in our cars long hours, stuck in traffic, or we will ride the bus or take the train to get to jobs many of us would not do if the salary, title, or position were not what it is.
Resumes often have us criss-crossing the state (if not the country), moving from one neighborhood to the next in search of that “Dream Job” that will one day bring us the happiness and success we desire. Those of us with families drag them with us, uprooting our children from school to school, taking them far away from relatives (grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, etc. who, in generations past, all acted as part of the larger extended family, helping us to raise our kids with the same values) as we desperately try to find babysitters we can trust just to get a night out.
But what do resumes really tell anyone? Do they speak to our honesty, our sincerity, the health of our marriages, the addictions with which we struggle, the pain we hold in our hearts, our private grief, our inner aching to know and be known?
Of course not.
In fact, I would argue that, by shaping our identities around our resumes, we are, on the one hand, actually enhancing the ache, while, on the other, divorcing ourselves from the deeper relational commitments that might help to assuage this anguish. In other words, resumes mask the very brokenness they create.
Resumes, while intrinsic to economic wealth, actually detract and subtract from oikonomic wealth. We all have known (and are possibly guilty of ourselves, I know I am!!) those who put career before family, with the often tragic consequences of divorce, broken homes, multiple re-marriages, fatherless children, and lives, in the long run, full of regret and ruin (check out this clip of Super Bowl MVP quarterback Tom Brady acknowledging this very thing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHSfiKAtPzk)
I recently spoke at a leadership conference, where I raised not a few eyebrows when I said that I hope to never have to use my resume again. What, then, in oikonomic terms, is the alternative to resumes? I propose that it is the idea of roots.
The other day, my son and I were sitting in a restaurant very near the house where I grew up. As we were eating, it dawned on me that I had spent many hours over the years sitting in the very same place at his age. I told him of the many times my mother, brother, and I would walk to this very place to have dinner. That space had roots for me.
Another example: The home where my family lives is a house that has been in my family since 1974. My dad bought it as the model show home for the neighborhood when he became the founding principal of the school in that neighborhood. Since then, just about every member of my family has lived there. My brother and I grew up in it, then, when our family moved out to our farmhouse, my grandparents moved in and lived there for ten years. My brother later moved his wife and children in after my grandparents moved into assisted living, and then, after my brother moved out, my wife and I moved our family in.
This house has never been owned by anyone other than my family, and the memories etched (quite literally) in its walls speak of birthday parties, baby showers, Thanksgiving dinners, and Christmas mornings. It has seen its share of family squabbles, lemonade stands, busted pipes, and late night basketball games in the backyard. It has seen the joy of graduations and the tears of funerals.
In other words, this house has roots.
When one pursues roots rather than resumes, one is committed to place and space rather than promotion and advancement. One becomes rooted to and in community rather than corporation. Rather than a short stint in multiple steps up the ladder, one becomes dedicated to what Eugene Peterson calls a long obedience in the same direction.
Roots take time. They require depth. They demand patience. Being rooted in community requires accountability, transparency, and vulnerability. It means we must see others as ends in themselves rather than as means to our own ends. It means we must move from competitive advantage to compassionate engagement.
Resumes may bear employment, but roots bear fruit. It is as equally hard for people as it is for plants to bear fruit if they are continually being uprooted and replanted in different soils.
“Rooted” people grieve over their communities. They are in it for the long haul.
It is interesting that, when Paul talks about sin in Romans 6, he states that it is the wages of sin that lead to death, acknowledging with an economic term the same thing I think Kafka points out in The Metamorphosis by showing Gregor Samsa, the dedicated worker-turned-dung beetle, more concerned about being late to work than the fact that he has multiple legs and antennae!
And what, according to Paul, is the opposite of wages? Fruit! The fruit Paul speaks of (Galatians 5:22-23) comes from deep roots planted in the fertile soil of covenantal community.
What does it mean to choose roots over resume? It is to choose an oikonomic alternative to the rat race of economics. It’s to choose to see the world through a different lens, to choose to be wealthy in ways that are not centered in Mammon, to live from the oikos out.