In the travel down my humble and imperfect road of life, often I am reminded what defines family to me: Unconditional Love.
It doesn't matter if you are biologically connected, adopted, step, foster - or a friend who is close enough to be considered family. Sometimes our friends treat us better than our family does. What kind of family member are you?
When you pass by a family member figuratively broke down on the side of the road, do you pass them by, hoping they don't see you? Do you pass them by, honk, wave and make fun of them? Do you share his/her misfortune with others for a laugh when actually you are humiliating them? Do you kick them when they're down? Do you drive by, then after a few miles turn around to see if they need help? Do you immediately pull over and offer assistance? What kind of family member are you?
You probably know one of my favorite quotes is from Mahatma Gandhi who said, "Be the CHANGE you want to see in the WORLD." We could borrow from his words and apply it to our personal lives: "Be the CHANGE you want to see in your FAMILY." Are you the kind of member who has your hand out taking, taking, taking from wherever you can get it? Are you the kind of member who turns and runs, hides behind closed doors and unanswered phone calls when a fellow member is in need, whether it be emotional support, help doing a task, or whatever else? Do you make promises to assist and then don't follow through?
Do you help cultivate the family tree? A family is like a garden: if you only pick the fruit and flowers and don't put any effort back into the crops - watering, pulling weeds, trimming, nourishing the soil - then soon you've used up all the bounty and failed to replenish the tree, the plant, the garden -- and it withers, becomes weak and dies from neglect. The next time you want an apple or pretty flower there's nothing there.
I'm not saying we should enable bad habits, contribute to irresponsibility, but I'm talking about genuine help/need; of helping someone who is doing their best to help themselves. Or maybe someone who's made a mistake or errs in judgment and now is trying to make it right. We're all there, every day. We all goof up, make a bad decision, and most of us can take care of those little uh-oh's ourselves. But lilfe happens and sometimes is unfair, and sometimes we let things snowball out of control, or life happens beyond our control. We all get there one way or another eventually, (if you are human, LOTS of times!), whether we recognize it during the journey or at the end of the journey when we are trying to cope with losing and loving and letting go. How many times do we enable one family member, but refuse help to another? Do we lower the bar or expectations for one person and raise it for others? Do we only help if there's something in it for ourselves or do we treat each other equally and with that same unconditional love, dignity, and respect we want to receive in return?
It would be so easy to just be ourselves with our closest people: family. If we treated each other by the standard set by the Golden Rule: "Do Unto Others as You Want Them to Do Unto You." In other words: "Treat other people the way you want to be treated by them."
Sometimes we have toxic relationships in our family. Sometimes we have relationships in our family where the person is doing the best they can with the skills, tools and knowledge they have. I'm not talking about people who are a danger to our mental and physical well-being. I'm talking about people who are just plain difficult or just not there for us. We gauge for ourselves what closeness, distance or boundary is healthy for us with that person. But do we stop loving them unconditionally?
You might be thinking, "I'm there if someone asks. If they don't ask, I they must not need my help." Well, some situations are so obvious, some are so embarrassing, and some are so painful that asking for help is a hard thing to do. If you see it, do you ignore it, or come to your member's aid? Do you broadcast it to the world and have a good laugh or are you discreet and trustworthy? Have you considered that even if you offer assistance and the person declines, they know that you are there if they need you and they are not alone on the road? Next time, perhaps when they notice you are in need of a hand, they will take the initiative to offer assistance. Maybe they will follow your lead and you can depend on them to be the first one to show up to help YOU.
Think about it. What kind of person/family member are you, really? We are taught as little kids to be kind, considerate and courteous to everyone we meet, even people we don't know. Hopefully we teach our own children social skills: being polite and having manners. How many times do we treat our friends better than our family? Do your actions speak louder than your words? Are you full of words but no action? Are you dependable? Do you put conditions on your affection and attention? When you have a request of need help, do you expect others to jump for you but when the tide turns, do you keep putting them off? Little things do mean a lot. A simple request unfulfilled speaks volumes more than words that keep offering promise. Have you said, "I love you" to someone and they replied sarcastically, "It shows." Everyone laughs. Think about it. What is that really saying about YOU?
"BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE IN THE WORLD." It's simple. It's easy. It's unconditional. You will make someone feel like they matter. And there is something in it for you: you are tending your family tree and it will be there for you when you need it. Best of all? You are making a difference to someone. It will make you feel good inside. For a long time.
I'm off now to turn on the garden hose and drag it over to the Family Tree to see if it's parched. Have I been doing my part? I'll reevaluate myself to see what I need to do better because I depend on the Family Tree so much. I've spent many a hot day in the comfort of its shady canopy...