Fuller House: Queen Esther's Stewardship

Detail from ‘The Wrath of Ahasuerus,’ by Jan Steen, circa 1668.

Detail from ‘The Wrath of Ahasuerus,’ by Jan Steen, circa 1668.


How long will we wait for someone to make the right choice(s)? That choice being the one we want them to make. The choice we hope that they’ll make. The decision that we trust they’ll make - all on their very own perhaps. But alternatively, at what lengths will we intercede and make a choice for another person? Even our children perhaps…

For instance, I’m sure we’ve all read the recent news articles titled something like, “Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin: How College Admission Scandal Ensnared Stars.” In case you haven’t heard Actresses, Business Leaders and Other Wealthy Parents Charged in U.S. College Entry Fraud”:

In a major college admissions scandal that laid bare the elaborate lengths some wealthy parents will go to get their children into competitive American universities, federal prosecutors charged 50 people on Tuesday in a brazen scheme to buy spots in the freshman classes at Yale, Stanford and other big-name schools.

So, maybe #AuntBecky  (actress Lori Loughlin) from the T.V Show, Full/Fuller House role molded a better version of parental advisement than she did in real life. But what’s the takeaway? An old, but wise proverb: You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. Parents can buy their children into college, but they can't force them to learn. You can even bribe coaches and corrupted educators, but you still can’t purchase an educated son or daughter. That part is on them. As Andrew E. Lelling, the United States attorney for the District of Massachusetts, said during a news conference: “The parents are the prime movers of this fraud.”

Last August, Lori Loughlin's Daughter Olivia stated herself in a YouTube video she uploaded before her enrollment at the University of Southern California: “I don't know how much of school I'm gonna attend... But I do want the experience of, like, game days, partying…I don't really care about school” - Yeah, Olivia, I hear you. Skipping classes, Trojan homecoming games, and vodka-tonic mixers for $50,000 a year. Just your average college experience…

Ultimately, we can build our kid's science projects for them, but one day, in a galaxy far, far away, they’ll eventually have to do it all by themselves. I know. It’s a scary thought. But if we are determined to help those we care about to become better developed, sophisticated leaders or naturally trustworthy, hardworking partners in any relationship (marriage, friendship, kinship, business, parenthood), we have to let go of the reigns and stop making choices for others. You can try dragging a horse to water, but you can never make it drink (alternatively, you can buy a USC tuition and they’ll drink all day long).  

Author Stephen Covey says that “There’s a much better, a more effective way to [be in a relationship] with other people. And it’s based on a paradigm of appreciation of the self-awareness, the imagination, the conscience, and the free will of other people.” Covey calls this Stewardship Delegation. He explains that this type of relationship, “Gives people a choice of method and makes them responsible for results. It takes more time in the beginning, but it's time well invested.”

After all, when we have to be concerned and involved in every move that someone makes in a relationship, how much does it really accomplish for either party? Who actually benefits? Furthermore, who really takes ownership in a micromanaged relationship? It’s utterly exhausting! Thus, in order to create meaningful, more mature relationships with our spouses, business partners, and even our children, we need “Clear, up-front mutual understanding and commitment regarding expectations in five areas: (1) Desired Results (2) Guidelines (3) Resources (4) Accountability (5) Consequences."

Essentially, figure out what needs to be accomplished; retain responsibility; identify resources; communicate how well things are going; and then specify what will happen, both good and bad, as a result of that evaluation. In this type of relationship, one’s partner “Becomes [their] own boss, governed by a conscience that contains the commitment to agreed-upon desired results. But it also releases [their own] creative energies toward doing whatever is necessary in harmony with correct principles to achieve those desired results.”

For example, bribing your children into ivy-league schools is pretty much the antithesis of this model. But there is a relationship in Megilat Esther (Book of Esther) between Mordecai and Esther, where we do see a Stewardship Delegation:

“In the fortress Shushan lived a Jew by the name of Mordecai (v. 2.5). He was a foster father to Hadassah—that is, Esther—his uncle’s daughter, for she had neither father nor mother. The maiden was shapely and beautiful; and when her father and mother died, Mordecai adopted her as his own daughter (2.7). The King assembled all the beautiful young virgins at the fortress Shushan (2.3) and Esther was taken into the palace (2.8). The king loved Esther more than all the other women, and she won his grace and favor more than all the virgins (2.17). But Esther still did not reveal her kindred or her people, as Mordecai had instructed her (2.19-20).”   

When Esther learns from Mordecai “All about the money that Haman had offered to pay into the royal treasury for the destruction of the Jews (4.5-7)” (apparently, money bought you more than just tuition in those days), Esther is asked “To go to the king and to appeal to him and to plead with him for her people (4.8).” But keep in mind, he cannot do it for her. Mordecai is outside the palace walls. Here’s where things get interesting:

“When Mordecai was told what Esther had said, Mordecai had this message delivered to Esther: ‘Do not imagine that you, of all the Jews, will escape with your life by being in the king’s palace. On the contrary, if you keep silent in this crisis, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another quarter, while you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows, perhaps you have attained to royal position for just such a crisis.Then Esther sent back this answer to Mordecai: 'Go, assemble all the Jews who live in Shushan and fast in my behalf; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maidens will observe the same fast. Then I shall go to the king, though it is contrary to the law; and if I am to perish, I shall perish!'” (4.13-16)

What doesn’t Mordecai do in this scenario? Force Esther to do anything. Instead, he lays out the (1) Desired Results (2) Guidelines (3) Resources (4) Accountability (5) Consequences. Those being: (1) Save Jews (2) Appeal to the King (3) “Esther, you’re a Queen for heaven’s sake!” (4) If you can’t do it, we’ll find someone who will (5) Worse-case scenario: “You and your father’s house will perish.”

But perhaps the most important phrase in this story by Mordecai, the responsible parental figure, is the word perhaps. That word gives Esther a choice. No one can force Esther, but rather, Mordecai explains that the way is open. And in doing so, by phrasing to her that the situation is both perilous, but nonetheless solvable, it emboldens Esther to muster the courage to be a self-defined responsible leader. At that moment, Esther moves from passive pageantry to quintessential queen - affirming her agency and directing it towards the dire situation. After all, her fate is tied with those outside the palace walls.

But ultimately, Esther forges herself with her people, acting with them and also on their behalf. She conceptualizes a strategy and takes ownership of the situation. She personifies and embraces her role as a leader of the Jewish people - becoming her own boss and doing what’s necessary to achieve desired results.

Self-awareness, imagination, conscience, and free will. These are the qualities that make for a reliable, long-lasting connections between any two people. They are the interpersonal values we need to instill in others as Mordecai did for Esther. Because, if we’re repeatedly demonstrating to our partners (children, spouses, colleagues), “I'll make this choice for you, not with you,” we rob them of opportunities for substantial growth. We also remove from our relationship the capacity to progress, mature, and evolve, including the foundational trust required to move on to more significant projects.

There is one thing that is common to every individual, relationship, team, family, organization, nation, economy, and civilization throughout the world—one thing which, if removed, will destroy the most powerful government, the most successful business, the most thriving economy, the most influential leadership, the greatest friendship, the strongest character, the deepest love. On the other hand, if developed and leveraged, that one thing has the potential to create unparalleled success and prosperity in every dimension of life. Yet, it is the least understood, most neglected, and most underestimated possibility of our time. That one thing is trust.
— Stephen M.R. Covey, The SPEED of Trust
Aaron Sataloff