The Arabs have a proverb about the relationship between family and politics. The parable goes something like this: “My brothers and I against each other. My brothers and I against our cousins. My family and I against the world.” This is an adequate representation of not only Arab politics but a tribal mindset in general. While operating from a tribal perspective often does not provide the asabiya (or social cohesion) to hold empires for very long, it does provide at least some social cohesion. Unfortunately, not all families are able to unite together against a hostile world. This would include my own.
There are many reasons why family is important. We learn a lot of lessons about God and mankind from families. We learn how to deal with power, how to engage in political behavior and negotiation, how to deal with rules and exceptions, principles of justice and education, how to handle conflict and learn how to communicate, how to have disagreements without being disagreeable, how to love people you don’t always get along with, and many other important lessons that are supposed to carry on in our entire lives. We don’t always learn or teach the right lessons, though. Fortunately, as long as we are alive, and have the will to do so, we can unlearn wrong lessons and replace them with accurate knowledge and practice applying them.
In a way, conflict is inevitable. Because we have different personalities, different perspectives, operate from different assumptions and different worldviews, we are going to have disagreements. These disagreements will be expressed in what we like and what we dislike. These conflicts may be over minor issues or major ones, may be dealt with well or poorly, but they will exist because we are all at least a little bit different. Ideally, the family is a place for people to learn that different people can work together for the good of all, and that the differences that we have can be used constructively rather than destructively, that people change (for better or worse or indifferent) over time, and that when difficult times come we have to stand together as one.
This is not always the case. But since we all have families–whether they are blood family , religious brethren, or families of choice (our friends, whom we call brothers and sisters)–we all have the opportunity to be good examples of the kind of family we want, so that we can build relationships with those we have to be around and those we want to be around. I struggle with this often myself. If we want loyal and faithful friendships, we have to be the kind of people who are recognized as loyal and faithful ourselves, and we have to appreciate and cultivate loyalty and trust with others. While this is far easier said than done, if we want a better world for ourselves, we generally have a lot of work to do.
In a world of declining opportunities and rising conflict, we all need a safe place where we are loved and respected and cared for, and where we love and respect and care for others. We need communities that meet our needs, and that allow us opportunities to serve and help others. If we assume correctly that this world is a hostile place, and that it will grow more hostile with time and with increasing scarcity and impatience and anger, we have a responsibility to prepare for it by seeking to make our own families and communities as loving and safe as possible for everyone. It is unacceptable to expect evil and not to do anything to mitigate its damages to people one considers to be family, who should be closest to us, most loving to us, and the ones who understand us and relate to us the best.
As in so many areas of life, much work remains to be done and much work remains to be begun. In a hostile world, though, someone has to have our backs, and no one is going to have our back unless they know that we have their backs as well. Let us hope that we can build the respect and loyalty to others, and find it from others also, so that we can build strong families and communities capable of standing firm in times of great suffering and distress and hostility. If we must stand against a hostile world, let us make sure that we do not stand alone, but that we stand with worthy brothers and sisters as we face whatever may come in this present evil age.