Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Families and Societies

The following article was written and originally published in July 2006 in my former ezine, Whole Life Development. I was reviewing items I posted on my Author’s Den page ( ) and as I reread this article, it seemed just as appropriate today as when I wrote it, so I am offering it again.


I am somewhat amazed when I realize that an extended family is a kind of microcosm of society as a whole. Within the family there is diversity of interests, skills, talents and behavior, ranging from the creative and positive to the destructive and negative. What we find of interest and fulfilling or challenging in society, we might also find within our own families were we only to look. Indeed, society is but the reflection of our collective family units.

In a short few months I have progressed through the personal drama that is mirrored in the society in which I live. I have experienced the deep sorrows and emotions of loss, the relief of fears resolved and the exciting prospects of new adventures through the exercise of a regained sense of purpose and meaning. As I look at society I see these things every day. Certainly there is the struggle of sorrow and loss as we see the destruction of wars—between individuals as well as nations—and the personal loss of loved ones. Yet we also see within the process of overcoming the fears of loss a new courage and resolve emerging. Out of this resolve comes a new sense of purpose and meaning that empowers us to move forward rather than to stay bogged down in the loss or fear of loss.

Families experience struggles every day. Some are of little long-term consequence. Some have a deeper, more sinister effect upon us, often unknown to us consciously. A family with unhealthy and destructive tendencies imparts to their children through the very environment in the home a sense of fear and uncertainty. The reverse is also true when the home environment is truly positive and constructive. Children will often bury their fears deep within their psyche by expressing excessive bravado and recklessness. They demonstrate for all to see that they are strong and forceful persons with no fear by constantly subjecting themselves to unnecessary risks in their adventurous lives. Others may live timid, withdrawn existences, afraid to rock the boat or risk failure.

Any time there is a lack of mutual respect and support, an absence of constructive guidelines, or a tendency to express disdain for our neighbors, we set about the construction of separateness, arrogance and mistrust. Just as this is destructive to the family, it becomes a destructive contribution—by the family members—to the society in which they live. Instead of building a sense of belonging, a sense of togetherness, we build walls of separation, in our minds as well as physically. We see strong evidence of this today in the cry for building a fence to separate us physically from Mexico, our neighbor to our south. I am not making a “political” statement here, only an observation as to what can happen as we forget mutual respect, have few if any constructive guidelines (self-limitations to exploitation), and feel superior to our neighbors.

Certainly it will appear to some that this is an over-simplification of the problems we face. This kind of response is evidence of our subtle fall into the excuse response rather than the let’s discuss what we can do response. Think about the meaning of the words you use to convey your state of mind. They are indications of your belief system, which is the foundation for the way you act and react to life. If the effort to resolve a situation is over simplified, what can you offer that deals with at least some of the specifics within the greater situation? What positive and constructive effort can you make?

As family members work with each other out of mutual respect and seek constructive ways of dealing with the specifics of the variety of issues they face, positive results are assured. Strengths are discovered within each other that may not have been seen were it not for beginning with respect and acceptance of each other as persons of worth and value. Family members that feel the only way to be respected is to prove they are stronger, smarter or more forceful, will suffer the result of continuous conflict and struggle for power and recognition in other relationships.

Does this struggle for power and recognition sound familiar? Look at the U.S. foreign policy today. We will not speak to some nations because we do not approve of what they are doing. So, in order to prove their own importance on the world scene, they act even more belligerent, demanding even more attention. This spirals into an even stronger resolve to not talk with them. You can see where this leads.

Why, oh why do we continue to walk this path in our family life and in our societies? Why, when families seem to be breaking apart, do we try even harder to maintain our own position of power—as a parent or as a rebellious youth? It is in our basic nature to have self-respect. When self-respect is demeaned or threatened we will do whatever seems necessary for survival. When a parent seeks to control the youth simply because he or she is the parent, at the expense of recognizing the self-worth of the youth, there will be an irreconcilable break. It is only through knowing our own strengths and expressing them constructively that we will give our children the courage to constructively engage us in conversation that will lead to learning and resolution. Kahlil Gibran in The Prophet says of children:
Your children are not your children . . .
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts. . . .
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. . .
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.
Families are so important to the structure of our society and our world. It is in the family, ideally, that true nurturing begins, that support for individuality is established, and that courage to offer our most positive influence to our world is instilled. Have faith in yourself. Have faith in your family—each member—for their diversity, talent and courage to bring forth the best that can be. Let your children go forth as living arrows representing the best you have to offer as their proud parents. Encourage them to take up their positions as the next powerful, constructive and caring leaders of our society. If they are not empowered in your home, it will be difficult for them to find the sense of empowerment that they need to do the job we leave them to be done.

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