The Other I

January 9, 2008

Family survival strategy

Filed under: Just Stuff,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 8:52 pm

I seem to have been involved in a lot of discussions over the holidays with different people about families.  Specifically, why families sometimes split up into angry little cabals, with brothers and sisters not speaking to each other, sometimes even losing contact altogether, living and dying in unforgiven isolation.

Why does it happen?  How is it that some families, often very close during childhood, become so angry that they cannot even speak to each other, while other families remain loving friends throughout their lives?

I’m not proposing an answer to this conundrum.  I do know that families, functional or dysfunctional, are terribly important to most of us.  We care more about the slights and hurts, the support and the love that we get from family members than probably any other single group of people.  Even close life-long friends often do not enter quite so closely into that inner sanctum of our psychological well-being.  And that is perhaps the context in which we should understand families – our own and everybody else’s.

My own family has its fault lines, some of which have approached the cataclysmic.  But without ever talking about it or ever developing it as an overt strategy, each of us seems to have hit upon the same partial solution when rupture threatens.  When a sib does or says something unbearable, or when the discussion threatens to overheat to the explosive point, we withdraw.  We don’t say we’re not speaking to each other.  But we tend to stop direct communication.  In my case in relation to my brother who is striving to be a saint, this mutual silence went on for years.  He told me I was married outside the church to a divorced man and on the road to hell, while I was appalled by his use of physical punishment to discipline his children.  Neither of us could see a bridge between the gulf that opened up between us.  But both of us avoided recriminations.  Well, both of us avoided shouting recriminations at each other across the miles that stretch between England and Mexico.  The advantage was that when we did meet at Aunt Mary’s funeral some years ago, we did not have to sweep up the ditritus of our angry words before actually exchanging a few civil words.  I doubt we will ever become close friends again.  But we are speaking, and I know we love each other.  Even if I think the distance between England and Mexico is none too great.

One of the advantages of a big family is that it is possible to do this kind of thing without losing contact completely.  There is usually someone in the family who can keep up with the other, sometimes who can intervene, or explain the other point of view.

Right now we are applying this strategy in what you might call the Question of the Premature Tombstone.  About which tomorrow.

PS:  I can’t find the results of who is winning the primaries in the straw poll being taken over here on the American presidential candidates.  The interest in election results, though, is probably as great here as it is over there.  Hillary Clinton’s New Hampshire victory last night is the lead story in all the papers and TV news coverage today.

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