The crossroads post recently talking about the importance of values may have prompted you to do some thinking.
Where did your values come from?
If you’re like many, they came from your family, and if you’re American, and especially if you were raised in certain religious traditions or from a particular political leaning, you may have been raised with an emphasis on family.
If you can reflect back and easily identify sayings that are prominent in your life — things like “Family first” or “Blood is thicker than water” or “Your family is always there for you” then it’s clear that the bonds of family take a precedence in your life. And there’s nothing wrong with that! Family can be important. Same thing with religion. There’s certainly nothing wrong with placing a priority on these things.
But it’s useful to examine WHY you have done so.
Is it purely because that’s what you were taught?
Okay, no problem with that…. But if you have accepted someone else’s belief system unquestioned, even if that “someone” was your mother who you love dearly, then it’s worth inspecting it to see what it means to you.
Pick it up. Look underneath. Examine the edges.
If “family first” is your #1 priority in life, then what are the implications?
Does that mean, for example, that if you choose something that you want to do, that doesn’t fit with your family’s expectations, that you’re going to succumb to a sequence of guilt over it?
Say you have a very good friend who’s getting married in August, and you find out that your grandfather has planned a big barbeque the same weekend. All the aunts and uncles and cousins will be there, including some you haven’t seen in a long time.
What do you do?
Are you obligated to cancel on your good friend and skip the wedding?
Or is it okay in your family to not show up at this family event if there’s a conflict in scheduling?
What emotions will you feel if you choose one over the other? Because obviously you’ll have to choose!
Does it change your answer if you’ve already agreed to stand up for your friend, that you’re committed to being in the wedding party?
How about if your grandmother was recently diagnosed with cancer, and your grandfather has planned this because everyone is concerned that she may not be around for much longer?
Aak! Complicated situation, right?
We’re faced with such dilemmas on a regular basis. This is where our values are tested.
The “family first” thing sounds innocent and pure when it’s stated in a vacuum but obviously in real life there are many many implications, and often people pervert innocent-sounding ideals for their own purposes. If there’s someone in your family who likes to use the “family first” idea to coerce others into going along with their agenda, then that’s not “family first” it’s “me first.”
And, what is a family if not a group of individuals? Most of whom (parents and children) did not even choose to live lives together! We don’t pick our parents, right? (Though some spiritual teachers may argue that yes we do! on a karmic level.) The “family first” value system would imply that the group’s needs are paramount. Yes it means that you’ve got this wonderful collection of individuals who’ve got your back, who’ll help you pull through when life hits the windshield. But there are other flavors and nuances to it, too. Perhaps in your family it also brings along morality around sex, or children, and whether abortion is acceptable or not. These are sometimes matters only of faith and sometimes colored by circumstances. If you take “family first” as your value, then what are the implications? How does this play out, in what way does it govern your actions and those of your family?
These things are rarely if ever verbalized.
Taking a flashlight to your own understanding can be so helpful. It lets you know where you stand, and what subconsciously may be driving your decisions. It gives you incredible self-awareness, and it’s also a powerful tool for making decisions and knowing where to go.
Family is a value that benefits society, that is part of our collective agreement as a species to continue to propagate and to thrive on this earth. There is absolutely nothing wrong with valuing the family unit and placing a priority on that in your life. However what else does it mean, in practice, in terms of confines or constraints? If the family is valued over all then by definition that means the individual’s needs are placed second.
If your goal in life is maximizing your own potential and fulfilling your destiny, then are family values the most important of all?
Perhaps they are! Or perhaps you’ll find that pursuing your own path may take you away from the nest and even put you in conflict at times with what “family” would dictate.
Being aware of the competing forces that affect you can be so liberating in itself.
It may not make individual decision-making any easier but it can give you an inner compass to guide.
Getting married and having children may 100% be your destiny. Or you may be the type who wanders and finds your contribution potential in less traditional ways.