The Infinite Family
All human beings constitute a grand family. All human beings share a perfect and indelible relationship as family. We are linked in all ways from our anatomy and physiology to our emotional development and society. Our diversity, while rich and vibrant and inspiring, pales in comparison to our amazing similarity. In no way is this similarity more apparent than in the experience of suffering and the expression of compassion. Biology links us as humans; suffering binds us as beings; compassion unites us as family. Inasmuch as compassion exists within the human creature, families will exist and no individual will truly be alone.
Families are self-defined. While some within societies are engaged in debates about the merits, customs, and philosophies that seem to prefer one family structure over another, there can be no debate that individuals define their own families. Throughout history, families have been organized by principles of formal and informal kinship, genetics, law, politics, convenience, spirituality, culture, geography, language, resources, social status, and many, many others. While there are many ways to conceptualize the family, there is no way to confine the family. All of these many constructs are simultaneously valid as they are utilized meaningfully by each individual and family seeking to participate in society; yet none can be preferred. Such preferences create inflexibility, discord and disharmony and serve to undermine the strength of diverse families and the societies they construct.
Families have many beginnings. Families begin when any individual acts upon the desire to join their life with others. The variations of this joining are diverse and include romantic, economic, biologic, social, spiritual, resourceful, intergenerational, interfamilial, multifamilial and other socially constructed forms; they are multidimensional and are created and maintained for many reasons. When based on mutual support and advancement, this joining provides strength and stability to the foundation of the family ecology. There is no form of family that lacks the potential for moral, social, and emotional excellence when compassion and mutuality are present. Because joining takes diverse forms and will occur spontaneously in any given context where people live in proximity, and because joining is the primary base of family ecology, it is impossible to destroy the existence of families. Inasmuch as there are multiple humans on the planet, families will exist in perpetuity through joining. And whenever an individual finds a need to join intimately and compassionately with others, new families will begin.
Families maintain unique ecologies. When families form, they begin to immediately create and maintain a dynamic and unique social world. Through the processes of negotiation and consolidation, people construct families that consist of other beings organized in complex relationships at multiple ecological levels. These relationships are based on productive and affective roles deemed as necessary for the work of families. These organizations will exhibit changes over time. When changes occur in their organizations, they do so in the context of the entire ecology; thus families reassemble the new social world in a unique way. Joining is only the beginning of family; the most basic structural act. The basic structure is constantly added upon through development, circumstance, choice, and the life cycle of birth and death. The ecology of each family is unique as a whole and as it is viewed and experienced by each family member.
Families function to protect, serve, and nurture. Families, whether constructed of simple or complex structures, exist to protect, serve, and nurture their members. The definitions and expressions of acceptance, protection, service, and nurturance are specific to each family and cannot easily be generalized; though by-and-large these functions are acts of compassion and are positive and supportive. Families unable to achieve these functions experience tensions that often result in changes to their structures which may include acts of separating. Even in these cases, it is the individuals’ desire to experience compassion and nurturance that bring about changes in family structure and processes. These changes are protective and result in preservation of the family through change and are not, of themselves, destructive.
Families are diverse. Families are unique and diverse in both structure and process. This diversity protects individuals and families as well as the society in which they live. This diversity occurs for a variety of reasons including preferences, values, beliefs, needs, resources, and social or cultural ideals. Diversity in families is a product of human flexibility in response to self and environments; Family diversity is the result of the dynamic ability to tolerate stresses that might otherwise erode society. Diversity is an outward expression and result of compassion. Whenever diversity in families ceases to be tolerated, societies are restructured as individuals react in response to the denial of their lived worlds. Societies will come and go; families will exist through diversity, inasmuch as compassion persists within us.
Families are dynamic. Families constantly undergo developmental and structural changes. Family members choose to create new relationships, sever old relationships, change the nature of relationships, and constantly seek for a sense of balance through such acts. These changes are vital and can be both expected and unexpected. However the ability for families to structurally change, even in fundamental ways is critical for the health of the family system. Structural change in families is an act of survival, regardless of the reason for change. Families may reorganize themselves in an infinite variety of ways both with and without anticipation. These reorganizations are not evidence of destruction, but rather, they are evidence of creation given the result is quantitatively larger families or numbers of families.
Families are inclusive. Inclusion is an expression of compassion and protection and an evidence of the human desire for intimacy. Families provide inclusion in most cases, particularly when larger society does not. Sometimes the expression of compassion is challenging and difficult and families follow a path of exclusion. At other times, individuals separate themselves amicably, by a matter of degrees in an effort to create new family structures. The constituents of the new family may encompass a variety of relationships and will begin by joining. Joining, as the basis of human families, is inclusive by nature.
Families are resilient. By virtue of the characteristics of families as inclusive, dynamic, and diverse, families are resilient. These qualities serve to protect families in times of social, emotional, structural, and spiritual distress. Resilience is active compassion that facilitates response to change in families’ ecosystems and environment of living. Resilience acts in direct opposition to entropy. Individuals and families vary in their abilities to be resilient based upon their unique dispositions for inclusion, change, and diversity. Resilience in families is directly related to the presence and magnitude of compassion within their members.
Families are persistent, perpetual and infinite. Because of the grand family of humanity, we are all linked in inextricable ways. We are born, live, and die within dynamic family ecosystems that are understood uniquely. The active expression of compassion, individual and collective needs for intimacy, and the constituents of resilience ensure that the family will not disappear as the basic unit of society. Therefore, families are persistent and perpetual. Each and every family ecosystem is linked with infinite connections to other family ecosystems across the space of the earth and across time; our families came before us and follow after us; they cannot be destroyed, only changed. Because of this fact, families are infinite.