What Paul Ryan's Demand for Family Time Could Mean for All of Us

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015, following meetings with
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015, following meetings with House Republican leaders and the Freedom Caucus members. Ryan seeking unity in a place it's rarely found, is telling House Republicans he will serve as their speaker only if they embrace him by week's end as their consensus candidate. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

One of the best things that could happen to our democracy is if Paul Ryan got his wish -- and, if it was guaranteed to his colleagues and all of his fellow citizens.

Getting time with loved ones is vital for all of us because it tends to help us calm down during times of stress, reducing damaging cortisol levels and increasing oxytocin. Oxytocin a powerful hormone which helps facilitate social connection and bonding. It's also associated with a feeling of safety and contentment. It's importance goes way beyond feeling better.

We all know people can easily do unwise or unethical things when we're under stress, what Paul Gilbert, P.h.D, refers to as being in "the Red Zone." (Remember the last time you were rude to an innocent person when you were running late. Or see the recently released film versions of the Stanford Prison Experiment or Milgram Experiments. Or take your pick from one the latest corporate scandals, Volkwagen, for instance.)

We all highly susceptible to act outside of our values and best thinking under pressure in certain roles and situations.

Ryan is asking for regular breaks to step out of the pressure cooker that is politics to gain greater perspective and connect with things -- his family -- that are deeply important to him. Social connection and support are vital for all of us for our health and our ability to make wise and ethical decisions.

However, one critical phenomenon that's working against Ryan -- and anyone in power -- is "the Power Paradox." (Explained in compelling detail in a soon-to-be-released book by the same name, by Dacher Keltner, co-director of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley.) Keltner explains that people with an elevated sense of power are more likely to act impulsively and disrespectfully, cheat, and are less able to experience empathy. Empathy is critical for someone representing The People, not just a percentage of them. As more politicians are insulated from regular people, spending increasing amounts of time with wealthy donors and corporate lobbyists, this problem is only exacerbated. Which maybe why we don't see Ryan or many of his colleagues pushing for paid family leave or greater flex-time for every citizen.

To counter the power paradox, Keltner recommends, "Stay focused on other people. Prioritize others' interests as much as your own. Take delight in the delights of others, as they make a difference in the world."

For politicians like Ryan, that could mean pushing for congressional-level benefits for all working people. His new powerful role as House Speaker could help or hinder him in achieving this goal.