Michael Battalio


Friday, November 13, 2009

Serious Conversations (part 9)

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. We began with religion and have now moved onto many other things. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The ninth entry concerns family:

        With this entry I must start with my friend’s side. She has a rather large extended family that she doesn’t have much in common with, and she often questions her obligations to her family and what she gets from her family.
        She begins by saying that family is the group of people who are supposed to be there regardless of the circumstances and who should delight in your happiness and be pained in your sadness. The love of a family is more than enjoyment of one another’s company. In a biological sense, we are attached to those with whom we share genes. Socially and culturally, there is pressure to protect and care for our family members.
        Friendship, on the other hand, is optional. Our friendships change as our interests change; we are looking for something specific - pleasure, company, common interests - in our friends. Family, though, is forever; we are tied to our family by our genes and by mutual family members. And it seems we are supposed to get something different from our familial relationships besides enjoyment of company or common interests.
        But what is it, where is it, and at what point do you decide, with a particular relative, that you just don't have it?  Or is the question, “would I feel that something significant was missing if I didn't see them anymore?  Would they?”   What makes me care deeply for some family members and not others.

        I, unfortunately for my friend, have very little context to help here. I have a very limited family, not more than half a dozen that I ever see, and probably less than 20 total. So I have very little to draw from. In these couple of paragraphs is the best response I could muster:
        So, firstly, family love is different, yes, but why?  I think it's mostly cultural.  Something along the lines of a long time ago, when humanity was much more lawless, and trust was in short supply, you could trust your family, and that's all you could trust.  And trust is the first step to building a friendship which can then lead to love.  I also think it might have something to do with a desire to return what love and companionship is given us.  This would explain why you would care for those who care for you. The family members one cares for have established a lasting connection to you.  It's selfish, but that's what humanity is.
        I really don't feel pressure to like or be around extended family. If I like a family member, I don't look at those relationships any differently than ordinary friendship.  If I stop liking them, I stop interacting with them.  I don't really dislike any of my family though.  I suppose my problem with all this is I haven't spent enough time around my family to know whether or not I like them.  I feel my obligations to family are simply being courteous and civil. And that’s about it.
        To say the least, my friend was unsatisfied.

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