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"But they're family"

by Matty Long 3 months ago in humanity

Some thoughts on the bond of blood and its effects on modern society and recent events

Throughout history and culture, people have found ways to forgive things that they wouldn't usually forgive because the offender was family. This stretches from little mistakes to horrendous crimes. And, of course, the opposite has always taken place too. Parents throughout history have disowned children and vice versa. But this isn't easy, and I think it's fair to say that there is a pressure in society, both internally and externally, to find understanding when the conflict took place with a close relation. Now, I think an exception that proves the rule more often than not is divorcees. Many people who divorce do not want anything to do with their ex and feel no pressure to. In fact, the opposite is prevalent in many cases. But what is common is for people to make amends when children are involved. And that illustrates the difference. It doesn't need to be stated that most people care very deeply for their relationships with their children, because their children are their blood. That's why, say, a childless couple who bitterly divorce may often have no desire to make amends because their is nothing to lose. This societal and personal pressure is something you feel to those whom you are blood-related. Fiction has often shown this, too. Look at the plot of 'The Godfather' (SPOILER ALERT), where Michael Corleone changes from the nice guy to the ruthless mobster all because of his family and his father.

And these pressures can affect the decisions of evil, unsympathetic people, something that's illustrated again in fiction very well in Game of Thrones (INCREDIBLY MINOR SPOILER ALERT) when Tywin Lannister explains to his dwarf son Tyrion that the only reason he didn't drown him at birth was because he was his son, and nothing is more important to Tywin than family. It brilliantly demonstrates the power of this abstract idea of the importance of family, as Tywin literally hates Tyrion as a person and spends his whole life wanting him dead (SIGNIFICANTLY BIGGER SPOILER ALERT), ultimately leading to his own downfall when his son finally finds it in him to kill his own father.

Now, extremes aside, these pressures are surely a good thing? Forgiveness is always important and why would you not want to make amends with your father/mother/sibling? Surely life would be better off if you got along. But an opinion I've held for years now (despite coming from a loving family and never having problems with anyone in my family - something I'd like to make very clear) is that these in-built pressures have often caused more pain to people than solace. The darkest area of this line of inquiry is of course abuse. Events of the last ten years, with the horrific child abuse that came to light with Operation Yewtree, and more recently the Weinstein effect/me too, augmented my opinion on this. Now, of course, many of these cases did not involve family, but it goes to show how much can be overlooked and covered up with the right authority. And it only makes you think of the horrors that go on every day that are never revealed becuase the offenders are relations. That incredible tight bond of blood relations often becomes the biggest obstacle to truth and justice.

Thankfully, however, perhaps fueled by horrors such as these, there appears to be a movement in society towards the opposite. I've seen it start to appear on social media, in the form of memes and viral statuses etc., whereby people actively encourage others that they should feel no shame in their hatred for crimes committed by family members/decisions to cut ties. Ronan Farrow, the force behind the uncovering of the Weinstein effect, has cut ties with his father Woody Allen for such reasons. I'm not suggesting that these decisons are always based on such horrific cases as discussed, but there is a spectrum and I'd like to think that, on the whole, a movement away from these pressures has done more good than harm.

But that's where I come to my next point about this idea. I'm sometimes accused of being a contrarian for going back on an opinion as soon as it becomes prevalent. But hear me out. We mustn't forget, as a result of moving away from these pressures, the importance of familial bonds. Ronan Farrow may be estranged from his father, but he credits the strong bonds with the women in his family as the driving force behind his work and his understanding of diplomacy.

I think these pressures shouldn't be forgotten, but reclaimed for a different purpose. Now, I think the best thing about them is their bias towards touching base with people when it comes to misunderstandings and differences. This may not always be excusing of behaviour or opinions, mere understanding. This is where the bond of blood does the best for society. Forgive me for returning again to fiction, but how many of our favourite feel-good films concern parents and children, or siblings, learning to put their differences aside, fueled by their familial bond?

The point being, there is a degree of benefit-of-the-doubt that you might give to a parent or a sibling when it comes to disagreement that you might not give to someone else, because that someone else isn't important to you. When you share blood with someone, you know that everything isn't as black and white as it seems. Family are the people you tend to spend the most time with, and thus the people you tend to fall out with more, but as a result, they're also the people you reconcile with more. Because more often than not, you do reconcile. Social media is a hotbed of hatred these days, but frequently I see the same people who write off their opponents as evil online over minor differences in opinion, joke about their thanksgiving dinners with the family where the same differences in opinion come up, except they're not wishing death upon their Uncle John because he voted differently from them.

In the current pandemic, a couple of things have happened that might illustrate my point further. Firstly, the media seems to only report two types of news - hgihlighting how horrible people are being and how this pandemic "has really brought out the worse in people" or highlighting how heroic people have been and how this pandemic "has really brought out the best in people." Sorry, but all that's proven here is people are people. Nothing's changed because of the pandemic. People will do horrible things and people will do nice things. The media (and especially social media), as per, only likes to highlight extremes and, as a result, fuel conflict, giving the impression that we've divided into two factions of heroes and villains, which is a stupid and dangerous idea.

The other thing is, many of us have been stuck inside with our families. Where as in some cases this is an awful issue if we return to my first point, and I sincerely hope that such pressures don't give way to abuse of the vulnerable, those of us with loving families can hopefully reflect on the fact that they will obviously fall out time and time again during these, to quote the media, "unprecedented times," but, I'm hoping, come out of it strong. The bond of blood is going to face a huge test in households all over the world, but a positive outcome, surely, is that the most irritating things and differences we have with our loved ones, can ultimately be forgiven as we bond to get through this together.

To conclude, the modern world was a very divisive place before this happened. I had hoped the constant one-upmanship and desire for moral high ground that plagues social media would disappear when this happened, but, like I say, it has only intensified. My proposal for a solution is for people to perhaps think about how bad their relations with their families became during lockdown, but also how the fact that they were their families got them through it. Perhaps the same kind of attitude should be held for the rest of the world. Now, I know I sound like a hippie idiot preaching that we should all be one world of brothers and sisters, but that's not what I'm saying. This societal pressure about family that caused so much pain throughout history is something that many people of my generation have rightly protested, but I'm suggesting that the positive side of it be reclaimed, and used for a move towards understanding that the world really needs right now.

Matty Long
Matty Long
Read next: Understanding the Effects of Addiction on the Family
Matty Long

”I have opinions of my own - strong opinions - but I don’t always agree with them.”

George H.W. Bush

Twitter: @eardstapa_

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