Commentary: The importance of family, as taught by The Other Side Academy

I’m a firm believer that family is the basic unit of society and that as families go, so goes society. I believe that values such as honesty, integrity, respect, structure, hard work, loyalty, duty, caring, obedience (to correct rules and laws) and love are indispensable to a well-functioning society. And the best place to learn and teach those values is in a family.

I recognize that I’m an old, white male and that the paragraph above will be viewed by some as insensitive and politically incorrect. But I believe it anyway.

I fully understand that families, even the best families, are far from perfect, and the teaching of the principles mentioned above is often erratic and uneven. The majority of families today are not comprised of a mother, father and children. There are far more non-traditional families today, including singles and single parents, than the families portrayed by “The Waltons” or “Father Knows Best.”

I also recognize that many families, probably most families, need help. Preferably, much of that help can come from grandparents, siblings, or extended family. But sometimes it needs to come from churches, other non-profits and charitable groups, and sometimes from government.

And no matter how strong a family is, there will be breakdowns, rebellion, divorce, heartache and disobedience.

But whatever the challenges and failings of families, I still believe a family setting, and the love and structure that comes in a family – imperfect though it may be — is humanity’s best hope to cope with and solve the problems of society.

One of most realistic and straightforward things I’ve heard in a long time was a comment made by Joseph Grenney, board chair of The Other Side Academy, on a KSL radio program hosted by Boyd Matheson. Grenney runs a program for men who have experienced the worst of life. Most have been drug and alcohol addicts, most have been in prison, and most have been homeless.

Grenney said on the radio show that the main cause of homelessness, and its associated tribulations, is the “catastrophic breakdown of family.” To me, that was a powerful statement from someone in the trenches. As government deals with homelessness, we hear a great deal about addiction, mental illness, job loss and unaffordable housing as causes of homelessness. We don’t hear much about the breakdown of family.

The Other Side Academy, in literally saving the lives of many men who have hit rock bottom, attempts to create, to the extent possible, a culture that replicates family structure — with rules, values, discipline, organization and accountability. Most importantly, it facilitates human-to-human, heart-to-heart, one-on-one relationships — like in a family. That’s the secret to the success of The Other Side Academy.

Grenney said two principles drive Academy operations: The Academy community (the “family”) as change agent; and the efficacy of self-help. The Academy has a distinct culture with firm rules and values. Grenney said the Academy is “more chaste and sober than a BYU dorm.”

When my wife and I moved from Salt Lake City, we hired the Other Side Movers to pack up and move our boxes and furniture. It was a big job and we were immensely impressed with the professionalism, skills and attitudes of the workers who came to our home. They did a great job.

Now, The Other Side Academy is going to tackle homelessness on a much bigger scale with the creation of The Other Side Village where homeless people can have their own small homes — but with the structure, discipline, values and community culture proven to work in The Other Side Academy.

As Grenney said, the “catastrophic breakdown of family” is the cause of much of the suffering and turmoil in society. A big part of the solution is to support, help and re-enthrone families – whatever their makeup, challenges and shortcomings – as the foundation of society.