How large is your family?


Recently I attended a work shop on “Public Speaking”. It was an entertaining and yet educational experience. The key skill to be cultivated for public speaking would appear to be a comfort level with your audience. This set me into thinking:

With whom do you have the most comfort with?

For a child it would be with the mother. There is a special bond between the mother and the child. The child may kick, scream and throw temper tantrums. Yet, the mother is patient and persuasive in working with her child and molding it into a better person. Then there is that unconditional smile in the most unexpected moment that melts the mother’s heart.

Then there are the parents, siblings, relatives, spouse, community of friends, etc.  Of course in this age of social media, our comfort level seems to expand with the many strangers, hardly known in person or within physical proximity, yet profoundly close and familiar with much of our personal details! More you are at ease with some one, the easier it is to speak and communicate with. Is that what a family is all about?

This set me thinking again: How large is one’s family? If our above discussion has any validity, then every one I have comfort with to express my views freely must be in my family circle. This will include relatives, friends, acquaintances and strangers, in an expanding circle. The comfort level you experience in this expanding circle is like the gravitational pull: Inversely proportional to the square of your distance with respect to the person!

Is that what happens in real life? Our expectations, our fear of antagonizing some one close to us, our fear of losing the relationship, over a period hardens and our freedom to be comfortable with each other diminishes with time! Fortunately this down ward spiral does not extend to the mother and the child. But, as the child grows into youth and young adult, the comfort to be free with each other diminishes. There is a fear of “offending” each other more than the freedom to engage each other.

We see this in family circles. There is a greater sense of freedom to be candid with friends more than with the spouse and the relatives. Opinions are expressed and argued with, more readily with strangers and outsiders than within the “family” members.

We see this in work place as well. There is a preference to “put up and shut up” rather than “rock the boat”. It is easier to bring an outsider – the consultant – to air the laundry, rather than a willingness to bring them out internally for discussion and resolution.

The above is not always the case. In fact, as the freedom and comfort with each other grows with time, there is a sense of liberation and greater level of intimacy in the relationship. The purpose of relationship is not superficial, but a deep sense of commitment for a shared common cause. Indeed great public speakers connect with the larger audiences primarily because of the shared commitment to the cause or causes between the speaker and the audience.

Why does a relationship that starts with no constraints, fears and apprehensions – like that between the mother and the child or between two perfect strangers who like each other – become constrained and limited over time? Is it due to a fear of loosing what we already have? It is often said that only when we are afraid of loosing something of value, that fear sets in and imposes constraints in our freedom of thoughts, freedom in our expressions and our willingness to take risks and speak our mind. The deep roots of a good relationship – like that among family members or friends – become subverted in our false attempt to preserve and “protect” the superficial or surface level connections. Like a river set in motion, relationships take their own course. To cultivate a “family” with meaningful relationships requires sustained effort. It is like the constant effort required to channel the flow and harness the energy of the river.

Perhaps it is wrong to ask the question” How large is your family?” Instead it may be better to ask, “How well do you know your “family” and what you are doing to nurture it to grow larger and stronger?” When the deep roots of interconnectedness grow with time, the family gets larger as a full grown tree.

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5 Responses to How large is your family?

  1. Raji says:

    very well written. Very apt for the modern time

  2. R Sumanthra says:

    True. This made me think quite a bit.

    I have seen this in many families – especially those with the typical middle class ethos where importance is given to ‘traditional values’. The result is a cold-war like feeling that only seems to aggrevate problem situations (and naturally spills over to everyday life).

    However, when there is a powerful personality(ies) in the family, this is generally not the case. There is a clear and objective method of dealing with the problem. The ‘head of the family’, by nature of his/her positioning would be dealing with such kinds of things ….

    The question is, where do we balance this tradition with the type of demands that are needed in the contemporary context and to what extent these relationships would need to be nurtured …

    Perhaps we should teach our kids (and in the process, ourselves learn) how to deal with relationships in this nuclear family and digital era (the digital era seems to be giving rise to new dimensions that are new to these traditional systems).

  3. Jay says:

    I liked the crux of this essay which seems to say that sometimes we forego speaking our mind for fear of jeopardizing a relationship (family, friends circle or professional ones) despite a long standing level of comfort. The reason may be simply that the level of comfort varies with the diversity of the relationship. Sometimes it is better to be tongue tied in order to maintain status quo than to rock the boat and lose what tenuous relationship exists.

  4. jothi raghavan says:

    Very well written and thought of essays. I thought I’ll mention this under this topic though I have read most of them. Long time friends make fun of each other just to be light hearted. We do not pay compliments just as much as we do not tell them anything negative …So , here you go.. Kudos to all your writing. Keep them coming 🙂

    • sipractce says:

      Jothi: Thanks a million! You made my day !!
      Please keep the compliments coming as well as the criticism.
      Re-stating a sentence from the essay: The question to ask is not only “How well do you know your family?” but “What you are doing to nurture it to grow larger and stronger?” Compliments are like the fertilizer that help to nourish, while honest criticisms are like the weed killer and the pruning that keep the plant stronger and healthier. We should not with hold either, if the family of friends should grow larger and stronger. Also, the older the plant (relationship), more it needs care and attention to keep it stronger and healthier!
      In this spirit, compliments and criticism from all our readers are most welcome, especially from our long time readers!!

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