July 20, 2019 | 83° F

Expanded definition of family

The influential nature of the family is an undeniable presence in the lives of humankind. When it comes down to it, people are all about their kin. As Anthony Brandt worded it, "Other things may change us, but we start and end with family." There is a reason that when people either naturally succumb to death in their old age or their lives are cut short due to illness they seek the camaraderie of their families. When knocking on death's door, we don't typically rush into the office to meet that last deadline, although there is a large amount of people who treat their occupations as the most sacred thing in their lives. No, when the end is near, our natural instinct is to strip away the meaningless matters that either peppered or consumed our lives and focus on the serenity, identity and genuine love that, ideally, family offers.

Humans are relational at the core. Novelists, songwriters, playwrights and poets wouldn't waste their time and talent producing works conceptualizing love if it was merely an aspect of humanity existing in our imaginations. Rather, they are right on target: Love drives us. The most paramount form of love can be derived from our families, the people that we are predisposed to love even in the case that we don't always like them. When mankind operates for too long without sound relationships or minimally warm human interaction, deep loneliness surely follows. Whether you accept it or not, everyone wants people to relate to people who we can be "real" with, people that we can share our lives with.

Psychologist Henry Cloud states, "Bonding is one of the most basic and foundational ideas in life and the universe. It is a basic human need … Without a solid, bonded relationship, the human soul will become mired in psychological and emotional problems. The soul cannot prosper without being connected to others."

Furthermore, while family fulfills the basic human need for bonding, it also provides a strong sense of belonging that, unlike the nature of other relationships, entertains no replacements or layoffs. No matter how hurtful the fight or how harsh the words exchanged, renouncing your own flesh and blood — or the people who have become like so — is like giving up the heart and soul of life. Whereas a bitter fight with a friend may lead to the demise of the relationships, family forgives. Your family, though you may not see eye to eye on all or even on most issues, is your source of identity and, inevitability, your means of constructing your most rudimentary worldview. Through your direct and indirect lessons on morals and ethics, your family culminates a common spirit of proper conduction and belief systems. That is to say, family cultivates you in such a way that underlying personalities and clashing attributes is a solid foundation of binding experiences that nurture a common outlook. This truth is what renders family relationships so spirited, so honest and so undaunted by insults: No matter how painstakingly blunt you are with your kin, your deep ties permit and even encourage such conduct. Since your family is your identity, you challenge and hold it responsible in order to prompt its progression, evolution and prevent its stagnation. Since there is no fear of being rejected and abandoned, there is no tiptoeing around disputes in a close-knit family; rather, there is the determination to shield your identity from decay and encourage its vitality. To belong to an entity bigger than yourself, one that you never had to meet qualifications for, is a gift to be cherished and protected.

Hand in hand with every generalization is its anomalies, of course. For many, the pretty picture of a family that offers tranquility and guidance is just that: a picturesque ideal that resides far from reality. Contrarily, family may be the source of heartache, abuse or neglect. Your family very well may be a formidable collection of people that evoke bitter feelings and teary nights. For these unfortunate people, the challenge is to break away from the institutions that habitually drag their miserable sprits further down the bottomless pit, to free themselves from the bondage of an awkward family and establish healthy ties elsewhere.

With that being said, your family does not necessarily have to consist of the people with whom you share blood relations. Whether your family is the inauspicious type previously mentioned or your family is just wonderful, bonds can be made between people that bind them so tightly together as to make them family in a loose translation of the word. This is perhaps a more freeing alternative for many; rather than being "stuck" with a group of people who don't understand you, you can choose the people who support, encourage and motivate you to consider family. Even if your blood relatives are an epitome of aliment, there is no harm in expanding your definition of family to encompass those who you have learned to love like your own blood.

At the end of the day, your family is the people that encourage, challenge and protect you; whether or not you share a blood connection is not the heart of the matter. For students, breaks from school are not happy only because of the freedom from studies that they guarantee, but because of the time they make available for us to spend with the people who are central to our lives. For those who are employed, their motivation to work tirelessly day in and day out is often family. For the sick, the focus of their strength and attention is family, because when life is drawing to a humbling close, the most prominent aspect of it emerges as the greatest.

Jenna Greenfield is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore. Her column, "Triumphs and Woes," runs on alternative Wednesdays.


Jenna Greenfield

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