Picture this: An extended family is gathered for a Thanksgiving feast. A granddaughter announces she’s moving in with her boyfriend. A son has brought his same-sex partner to meet the family. You learn your favorite cousin had an abortion. The family vegetarian ostentatiously declines the turkey and anything it touched. Your Mom’s friend who helped make dinner is a guy 10 years younger than she and you suspect he’s more than a “friend.” A Marine in uniform and a peace activist complete the scene.
(I’m only partially making this up. I’ve seen each of these situations – but, I confess, never all at once!)
The need to be right and righteous can derail family relationships — sometimes forever– quicker than anything else. When someone says, “It’s a matter of principle” or starts quoting Scripture to buttress a position, or refers to those who disagree as “evil,” it’s time to pass the Pepto Bismol.
What’s wrong with wanting to be right? And good? Nothing, if we have the humility to understand we may be wrong. Or, more realistically, we may be partly right and partly wrong. Of course it’s a good thing to seek truth and to act from a moral basis. But we can only see through our own limited experience. To insist that another is not only wrong but even immoral leads to broken families, broken politics, and in extreme cases, war.
And yet, common ground, common values can be found in the midst of so much diversity. We just have to be willing to focus on the big picture.
So what can this family talk about? Anything they want to, if they keep their vision large enough. They may still have many common values: a yearning to give and receive love, kindness to animals, a safe world in which to bring up children, respect for human life. There are many ways to express these values. Some are represented at the table; others haven’t yet been dreamed.
Rumi, a 12th century Persian poet, said it this way:
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
There is a field.
I will meet you there.
Happy family gatherings,