As the Xmas holiday season approaches, my thoughts turn to a theme that is often on my mind: family values in today’s society. It seems to me that there has been a shift in recent times that is both troubling and possibly disastrous to the quality of life we may have in the future. I was brought up with the idea that there was nothing more important than the family and that it was imperative to take the time and effort needed to keep those relationships alive. Of course, one of the big problems today is that the families have become so “decentralized”; when I grew up, practically everyone that was related to me lived nearby and it was easy (and “normal”) to get together quite often. I thoroughly enjoyed these family gatherings and their significance changed as I got older. As a child, I could enjoy a carefree day playing with all my cousins (the best of times!) and, as an adult, I spent my time freely talking with all my brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles , etc.(I have to admit here that during my teen years, I drifted slightly away from this but came to value it more as I became an adult and a parent). We openly discussed what was happening in our lives and celebrated our victories and empathized about our hardships. There were very few secrets and everyone knew what was going on in everyone else’s lives. Today, most families are scattered all over the country (and some outside the US) and it is difficult to physically gather for any casual social event. Of course, we now have the internet, email and Facebook to keep us informed and “in touch” but that hardly takes the place of actually spending some quality time with relatives.
The real issue for me is the lack of emphasis that this generation puts on honoring these family relationships. I know this a generalization and that there are still a few who find it important to stay connected, but mostly I don’t see all that much effort. The area that really bothers me the most is in regards to how grandparents are relegated to the “back burner”. My wife, Helga, and I, feel tremendously fortunate (and thankful) to have been raised in the same physical house as our grandparents. We’ve often talked about how great it was to be able to visit with them and to feel safe and unconditionally loved while in their presence. For me, it was a haven that I could visit anytime I wanted; a refuge that I could escape to no matter how badly things were going in my “other world”. There were always kind words of encouragement, a warm hug and loving smiles, a feeling of total acceptance and safety. My tears would be wiped away and all my troubles would disappear. And, maybe more importantly, I learned a tremendous amount about life from them. Not so much in their words but by their example and their way of “being”. The elderly are an irreplaceable source of knowledge and wisdom that has been gathered through the trials and tribulations of a long and often tumultuous life journey.
Sadly, in today’s society, we relegate this great resource to nursing homes and other “elderly care ” units, leaving them to rot in loneliness and despair. We are all too busy with our own tiny, shallow lives to take the time and effort to care for them (or even to visit or call them!). I have to admit I’m as guilty as anyone else in regards to this and I often fall short in meeting my own expectations. But, as I grow older and I personally feel more of the pain of isolation and neglect, I’m forced to reflect on the severity of the situation. Everyone is a loser in this scenario (if you don’t see how this is so, please go back and re-read what I’ve written above) and our world becomes a little less meaningful. a little less loving and a lot more inconsequential , jaded and empty.
In closing, I have to say I have no solution to this; it really is a matter of each person examining their own lives and looking objectively and deeply at how this affects them personally, and how it touches the lives of those they love. As the holiday season approaches and you are wondering what gifts to give, maybe it’s time to contemplate how powerful it would be to give the easiest gift of all: Your Self!
Many blessings and a Joyous, Peaceful, Prosperous and Loving New Year to you all….