Q: This past Father’s Day brought up some long standing family “issues” and I was wondering if I should take this stuff on or is it better to let sleeping dogs lie and try to not make waves in the family dynamic?
A: Like it or not, the reality is that you wouldn’t be making waves, they already exist. It’s really just a matter of whether or not you or anyone else in your family is willing to acknowledge that you’re on the high seas. Then the follow-on question is are you all interested in finding safe harbor or do you want to keep pretending that the white caps and swells don’t exist?
Truth be told, I may be unqualified to answer this question. Do I believe that in certain times and in certain situations discretion is the better part of valor? Absolutely. Do I have a tendency to rise to that calling where family discord is concerned? Not hardly. And I am ready and willing to admit that there may be occasions among family where rocking the boat is unwise. But I think I’d rather be considered unwise than unwilling to tackle an issue and say, “this situation is a mess, but I care about it and want to work to fix it.” To be sure this is not license to offend anybody or autocratically decide that you are the one who’s got it all figured out and point the finger at everybody else’s flaws and dysfunction. If you’re going to call attention to the fact that the family ark is taking on water, I implore you to be as open minded as humanly possible. Without knowing the situation that is currently in play, the best I can give you is the reassurance that I truly believe that if your heart is in the right place of wanting things to be better for all concerned, then I would always opt for trying to resolve issues versus trying to avoid the fallout that may result from speaking your mind. The reality is that if your relationships do not allow for candor and openness, they really aren’t relationships at all.
I will never forget a time when my brother-in-law challenged me during a bit of a storm to ask myself, “Do I find value in this relationship?” And as simple as the question may sound, give it is due. If these are connections that truly do have value to you, then invest yourself in them. Give them your time, your attention, your thoughts, opinions and your energy. And be ready to honor the input that others offer. Whether you agree with their take on things or not should not be the initial focus. Consider it a given, that people are much more willing to listen if they, themselves feel as though they are being heard.
In recent years I have had to contend, for the first time in my life with family friction and I can sincerely sympathize with how stressful and downright heart wrenching it can be. But I will tell you that I have taken away from the difficulty some powerful lessons about how I will handle things in my own immediate family as the years go by. In my situation, I SO wish that my parents would stand up and say, “Okay, this family is being torn apart and enough is enough. Be at our house next Sunday at 10:00 sharp and we are going to get to the bottom of all this. Nobody leaves until we feel like a family again.” I find the recent conflict in my own family to be especially hard because my Grandmother who was in every way the matriarch of this family, not to mention one of the most extraordinary women I have ever met, wouldn’t have put up with this nonsense for a nanosecond and I miss her strength, guidance and influence on us all just terribly.
The world needs more people who are willing to dive in and give a damn. Is it going to help your situation? Who knows. But what I do know is that if you arrive at the decision that these relationships do indeed have value, then invest in their worth. I realized long ago that I cannot control anybody other than myself and my actions. And so I need to be unshakably certain that my actions are in keeping with a sense of courage and conviction. I need to be willing to do what I believe to be the right thing regardless of what unpleasant consequences or criticism may come my way. There is no question in my mind that I would always rather live with the criticism of others, than being disappointed in myself for not having the care or courage to hold fast and steer through the storm.
Here’s to wishing you smoother sailing ahead!