We Are Family

You’re supposed to spend Thanksgiving with your family. Everybody knows that. Most people have a spectrum of emotional responses to being reminded. Are you looking forward to it? Are you contemplating entering the Federal Witness Protection Program? A little of both?

It’s okay if this is complicated. We are complicated people. We are here to grow, and we’re each at different levels of growth on a million different things. Life, in other words, is messy. This is as it should be, of course, but sometimes that’s tough to remember.

There are people in my biological family who I profoundly admire; I know that they are my teachers, and I’m grateful for the educational opportunity. There are people in my biological family whose behavior is so toxic that, in the interest of health, growth, and tough love, I know I just can’t be around. There are people in my biological family on both of those lists, too. Life is messy.

Last week we talked about the idea that we’re here to learn and teach. That’s the secret to interpersonal relationships, too. If you can see that other person (you know the one) as your teacher and as your student, and if you can uphold that responsibility with integrity, things get easier. Either the relationship will change and improve, or you’ll have done what you needed to do and can finally move on. These are both valid outcomes, even when the lesson was just what not to do.

You have the ability, and the responsibility, to declare boundaries, to decide what is healthy for you, to love yourself. But you also have the ability, and the (you guessed it) responsibility to learn from others; to try and see them as children of God and just as worthy of love as you are.

Let me put that another way. Life is consciousness. That means that, on one level or another, you chose those people at the Thanksgiving table. Which means, in turn, that you can decide what to do about it.

Earlier I was careful to use the word biological when I was talking about family. But we know that family is defined in all kinds of ways. Yes, there are the folks you share DNA with. There are also people you share a roof with. Valid definitions of family, but hardly all-inclusive.

In our book, Jenny and I talk about the idea that the best definition of family has to do with service; that’s where the word actually comes from, for one thing. More than blood, or proximity, or geography, your family is defined by what you serve. Some families serve a dysfunction. Some serve a set of political sensibilities. Some serve tradition. What does your family serve? What’s their realest real, their biggest idea? Is there room for something even bigger?

Our heroes tend to be folks who try and inspire people to get bigger ideas, whether that’s “Truth, Justice, and the American Way," or just “Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself.” Not everybody hears what heroes have to say. But, over time, enough do, and things change.

It’s time to be a hero. Through your presence or your withdrawal, your words or your silence, maybe it’s time to advocate for a bigger idea. Can you inspire your family? Can you learn and teach?

Yes, you have to deal with your family. But they have to deal with you, too. You can do it.