Family Ties that Bind and Bind

There is a lot of pressure on individuals, especially around holidays, such as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Christmas, and Thanksgiving, to be part of a perfectly functional, cohesive family unit. The truth is that siblings, spouses and extended family members are rarely all getting along with each other. Instead, there is a pervasive dissonance or feud being waged on various levels.

In the meantime (at least in North America) we are inundated by various agents to be, among other things, the most efficient worker, the most productive CEO, the best dad, the most successful provider, the most giving mother, the best behaved child, or the sexiest lover. Whatever role we assume, competition and expectations of excellence are everywhere.

Plus, certain roles conflict with each other. For instance, becoming ‘the most productive CEO’ flies in the face of being ‘the best dad’ since both scenarios take time and effort in divergent directions. The more complicated our lives, the more roles and, by extension, the more conflict and stress. Our worth as a human being is often measured by these prescribed standards of behavior and values.

As we grapple with these impossible demands, do we ever question or even think about where these standards come from? One pervasive source is business advertising. With regards to primary relationships, we have been bombarded by idyllic images of familial bliss that help sell a product. Notions of close, loving relationships punctuate advertisements pushing flowers, watches, jewelry, toys, clothing, etc. And when we don’t measure up to these unrealistic images, we feel ‘bad.’

So much of what we think and do comes from this hegemonic conditioning of how the ‘good’ people live. In general, so much of our lives are lived without questioning and with a lack of ‘consciousness’ (that is without full awareness or deep understanding).

My approach to a more realistic, authentic and balanced purview involves a number of factors.

Firstly, I understand that much of my perspective and values have been molded by my surroundings. Beyond the media marketing dynamics, I see through a ‘lens’ that is formed by socially conditioned aspects of myself, including my gender, socio-economic background, and other experiences. This platform is primarily unconscious and action from here is more or less automatic.

Secondly, I may consciously and deliberately ‘check in’ with my body to monitor if I am out of sync on some level. The location of dis-comfort helps to then identify the cause of the discord. After I discern what I am feeling, I decide if the event is ‘my stuff’ or if it is something for me to just witness or to be a mirror for the other person. When I experience this type of conflict, I turn to insights and coping tools that I have gleaned from experience and information that I have gathered, and which resonate with my personal core values. However, in this context, I ultimately remain a product of my society, to some degree.

So thirdly, I also make a conscious effort to view myself and the situation from a distance – a view from 5,000 feet. From this clearer point of view, considerations include my fellow human being, investment in my humanity, and my immortal soul. From this perch, situated somewhat out of time and space, my beliefs and actions are based on the big picture. In this way, I am lifted out of any particular role which may be conditioned by any arbitrary judgment in and by my society. Rather, my criteria for action includes, "if it’s for the highest good, not hurting anyone, and doing my best.”

The irony here is that when I view the world from this distance and then return to the ‘trenches,’ I am a better person for it. My actions then tend to be decisive and generally borne of a healthy, balanced perspective. I ‘show up’ as more capable in all the roles that I, then, choose to play.

Helena Green is a freelance writer in Nanaimo.