Just going through my luggage, clearing out some things to make way for enlightenment
Sunday, August 14, 2005Family or Friends: The Difference is You
Written for the Smart Robinson Family Reunion 2005.
The word family is described in a variety of ways. Most of the definitions assume common ancestry or shared bloodline. While such definitions can certainly apply to this assembly, we need to step outside that framework briefly to consider a broader definition. There is an adage that states, you can choose your friends, but you can't choose your family. This is not necessarily true.
Some people are not fortunate to be born into healthy, nurturing, supportive families and even those who are will often seek to build upon those units. Do you have a friend so close that folks believe you're related? I have several. Through the years have you have brought that friend to family functions? I have. My entire family accepts these people and their families feel the same about me. At family gatherings I look around the room and see people that I thought were relatives until I was grown ass man. I also see people that I have welcomed into my life and consider family. These relationships are significant. The people with whom I share no blood have been as supportive and nurturing, if not more than my blood kin. I would go to the mat for them as I would for my own sister. To understand why, we can look to the study of social science.
Several years ago I had to research gang culture for a presentation on the increase in gang activity in suburban communities. I was interested to find out why children are drawn to gang activity and was surprised at the simplicity of the answer. Gangs tend to meet needs that go unfulfilled in other aspects of a child's life. The gang can give a sense of security, structure and discipline that is missing at home and the gang appears to be loyal when others are not. There are many reasons for joining a gang, but like most youth activities, criminal or otherwise, most young folks join gangs for companionship and love.
When I thought about that thing I realized that everyone really does go through the same process. We begin and maintain friendships because they meet a need in our lives. Friendships are neither random nor accidental. No one is going to keep anyone around that brings no value to their life. They must meet one of the basic needs; security, structure, discipline, identity, acceptance companionship and love.
There is security and comfort when we are around people who act and think like us. Our identity can be affirmed in such a setting. We share commonalities with friends that can be as complex and subtle as a shared socioeconomic or family structure or as simple and obvious as having been born on the same day. Sometimes alliances form out of neccesity, People who are confined to small areas will interact out of the simple human need for companionship. Whether they are college roommates, share an office space or a jail cell, they learn to coexist, respectful and mindful of differences.
I spend my first hour of work in a semi-meditative state. Most everyone in my office knows not to bother me because God is preparing me to get through the rest of the day. However, there is that one who I am convinced is the devil with a Dictaphone. God prepares me for that person before I get to work so that I don't go off at the first ridiculous thing she says. God grants patience. If you need some just call him. He'll holla back! I don't have any friends in my office, but we like each other and are allies in our quest to get the job done. Friendships form from the alliance when commonalities are discovered and we begin to share things that bring us closer.
Thus far I have described things that can certainly occur between relatives, but there is another piece that I believe solidifies the friendship and elevates it beyond family status; acceptance. Yes, I know that family members accept each other, but I'm talking about acceptance without judgements. In my experience family members have such an investment in your actions because they believe that they reflect on them. I was a little shocked when I first heard someone say that their brother's inability to stay out of jail was a poor reflection on the family. I was shocked because I have always been aware how large the sphere of influence in our lives. It is impossible in this huge world for an individual to be shaped completely by their family. Therefore any action is a reflection of society at large. It's not all about the family. Friends don't have that investment. They accept and back each other up. Everyone needs a person in their life that they can tell ANYTHING, without fear of how they may react. We need someone who will listen and when we're done, if they say anything, it will be something like, "How can I help?" or "Who you need me to beat down?" That is the nature of the gang. There are some family members who exhibit those characteristics and those are the ones that we tend to remain closest to, but there are so many others who fall short.
The Smart Robinson Family can rival any street gang only because there exists among us all those elements that draw individuals to gangs; security, structure, discipline, identity, acceptance, companionship and love. It is evidenced by the number of people I see at reunions and functions who are no kin to Smart Robinson by blood or marriage; those people we have brought into our lives to enhance the good and balance the bad. This family has the potential to be a smooth-running engine. We have only to do the maintenance.
First we must continue to love each other, which we have mastered. Even when we don't like each other the love is always apparent. With that love we must respect differences, boundaries, decisions and that respect goes across the board. I hear children cuss their parents out and the parents respond in kind complaining about the disrespect of the children. If you want your children to pay you respect, pay them some. Have enough respect for them to live in such a way that they won't have to call you on it later. Have enough respect to answer their questions to the best of your ability. Encourage them to question everything but your absolute authority because that will keep them from falling prey to others who would do them harm. When they do challenge you, love them enough to LIGHT THAT ASS UP! If you don't do it in your house, the warden will do it in his. When they are grown treat them like grown folks. If you don't agree with their lifestyle, don't try to tell them how they should live. If you were on your job, you did all that when they were children. If you try to do it after they're grown, you're just minding their business. If they're not wasting your money, don't tell them how to manage theirs. Give advice when it's requested and give it sparingly. If you're unsure or don't know, it's ok to tell your children. It lets them know you're human.
Set goals and boundaries for yourself and stick to them. Live your life as if someone is looking over your shoulder, because someone is. Find a framework by which to live your life. Whether you find it in the Bible, Koran or Torah, the God of all will provide you with the basis to live a good balanced life. When building your structure for living, include the opportunity to fellowship with other believers. I have some sense today because I was dragged to church as a child. If you don't go, send your children. Just don't get mad when they come home and witness to you. Round out their lives with other activities as all. Shuttle them to soccer practice, Pop Warner, dance class, Karate in addition to school. Keep them busy. Idle hands worship the devil. While you're at it, get yourself something to do too. This way when you're old, you won't be sitting around minding other folks business.
Acceptance is key to emotional health and well-being. Accept yourself and acknowledge your shortcomings. If you know what they are, you can begin work on them. Accept help in every form. If you have a problem, take it to God, but don't afraid or ashamed to seek out one of these profesionals that God gave education to help you work through things. I am extremely proud at my courageous mother for checking herself into a rehabilitation center just this past week. A whole heap of folks needing help never get it because of what other folks might think. Are other folks paying your bills?
Accept the children for who they are. Stand by them through their struggles. If they don't turn out as you wish, remember they are first God's children and your plan is not His. I urge everyone to think bigger and realize that everything is not a reflection on you. Temptation will come. Just let the children know they are loved no matter what. I've known people who completely cut their own children out of their lives for having opposing views. They justified it with the statement, "They goin' to hell and I won't have all that sinfulness around me."
Do you know that Jesus was a social worker who went into the field to get folks on his welfare program? And he went into the areas where it was most needed. Were he here today, he'd be found down at the unemployment office and the homeless shelter. He would be counseling crack hoes and AIDS victims. His ministry would be primarily to those who have no help or hope. His goal was that none be lost. Let your light shine for everyone to demonstrate what grace and mercy are all about and don't sit around sending folks off to hell. Don't you have enough to do without messing around in God's work? Finally never forget what it was like to be young and face the temptations of youth. I take issue with folks who preach piously to youth about how bad they are and how they should be living without acknowledging their own shortcomings. There is nothing new under the sun. The plot is the same. Only the cast is different.
Now that this has gone completely off its original course, I close by suggesting that we encourage each other and strive to be that family member who is chosen and not merely connected by birth. Do that and you will always have friends of and friends in the family.