24 July 2024

How to Enjoy Your Relatives

“We are incredibly heedless in the formation of our beliefs, but find ourselves filled with an illicit passion for them when anyone proposes to rob us of their companionship.” James Harvey Robinson 1863-1936

Most family squabbles come from opposing beliefs about something that results in an exchange of insulting looks if not outright insults. It’s easier to be tolerant of your relatives when you understand that they formed their beliefs as carelessly as you did and defend them as much as you defend yours.

Think of a belief you have about, say, capital punishment or seat belt laws. Where did your belief come from?

That’s a hard question to answer. If you ask that question when you disagree with a relative about something, even if it is as trivial as which way dishes face in the dishwasher, you might end up laughing. Of course, you have to try to answer it yourself, first.

Otherwise, you tend to avoid all subjects that may spark disagreement. That can be boring. Or you get into such a fight there is no hope for reconciliation.

Family members who do not speak to each other for years carry an unnecessary pain for years.

Here’s a story, an old folk tale I heard on National Public Radio: Long before recorded history two brothers owned and grew wheat on a large parcel of land in what came to be Jerusalem. The youngest brother married and had several children. The oldest remained a bachelor.

One year the two brothers had an argument they did not resolve. They divided the land and built a fence to separate them. Each continued growing wheat. The years went by. The brothers did not speak to each other.

One night during harvest the oldest brother awoke with this thought: I really don’t need all this wheat. My brother has a big family to feed. I will put some of my wheat in his barrels. Very early in the morning, he shoveled wheat from his harvest over the fence.

Meanwhile, the younger brother thought, my brother doesn’t have any children to help him with the harvest. I’ll give him some of my wheat when he’s asleep. So he shoveled a barrelful over the fence onto his brother’s land.

The next day, at different times, both brothers wondered why the amount of wheat was the same on both sides of the fence. This went on for a few more days until one night when both sneaked out to shovel wheat at the same time, they saw each other and realized why the wheat levels had remained the same. They tore down the fence next to a large rock and hugged.

When God saw, that he declared that rock as his church on earth. That’s how the tale ends. Today, four or five religions claim that rock in Jerusalem as theirs. Blood has been shed over that rock for centuries. The beliefs that we still fight over form our identities.

My Australian grandson asked his American mother, “What religion am I, Australian?”

My daughter answered, “That’s your nationality. You were baptized Anglican.”

He replied, “But I thought I was half-American.”

Identities can be confusing, but once found, by God, we’re not going to change them!

Enjoy the irony and love your relatives.

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