Family: Who’s in? Who’s out?

I don’t know about you, but I love the concept of family. I’m guessing you probably do too.

One of the big songs back in the late seventies was We Are Family by Sister Sledge. Besides the fact that it’s an extremely catchy tune, it still resonates with people because it appeals to a powerful inherent unifying desire we have to be part of something bigger than ourselves.

Our first sense of family is usually experienced with our immediate family: our parents and perhaps siblings. Then there’s the extended family: our aunts and uncles, our cousins, and maybe even few close family friends. Many of us also get to experience family when we find a partner, and maybe have our own children.

If we’re lucky we also get to experience a sense of family with other social groups, perhaps through sports, school, work, faith groups, or other interests. I played a lot of hockey when I was a kid so I appreciate the sense of family that can be built within a social group, especially if you’re with the same people year after year.

Regardless of where or how, it seems we all come to understand this universal concept of family being a unifying force, of people loving each other, accepting each other, hopefully in spite of our shortcomings and differences. When we think of family we usually think positive unifying thoughts.

The sad reality is that sometimes the thought of family can also be negative. Some memories of family are bad. As long as there have been families there have also been dysfunctional families. Not everyone always gets along. Some people don’t know how to handle differences or conflict. Divorce happens. Abuse happens. Siblings not being part of each other’s lives happens.

Ugly stuff happens.

Even when it’s not necessarily ugly stuff, families do drift apart. People stop making efforts to reach out. People select who’s in and who’s out. They don’t want to hang with that person or help them out because they’re different. Maybe they don’t hold the same religious beliefs, so they’re out. Maybe they did something to offend, so they’re out.

It seems that whatever concept of family we look at, there always seems to be some form of selection that happens. Some are in, and some are out. Whether it’s based on socioeconomic grounds, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, nationality, or behavioural, we can’t seem to make the concept of the universal family reality.

We can’t seem to get along.

I’m not going to pretend that we’ll all be one happy family anytime soon. I’m not going to pretend that we’re all going to get along anytime soon. I’m not going to pretend that there’s a quick fix to the problems that challenge our unity.

Nor will I simply give up.

I’m not going to pretend that dreaming for a better world, for one big happy family who cares about each other is a bad thing to do, just because it seems impossible. Because something seems unattainable doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. I refuse to accept that we can’t make things better than they are.

I refuse to accept that we can’t be a better family.

One of the writers of We Are Family went on to start a foundation whose mission is creating programs to educate people about mutual respect, unity, and cultural diversity while striving to solve global problems. He made a choice. He wanted to be part of making us a better family. I’m sure he was well aware of the near impossibility of making us all one big happy family. But that didn’t stop him from trying to make us a better family.

We all have a choice.

We are family.