When we’re embroiled in a family conflict, it’s easy to demonize the other, especially when an unforgiven wound has been carefully tended, preserved and polished like antique silver, occasionally taken out for display just for old times’ sake.
I’ve been reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love in a few days of autumn retreat at the beach. She describes her insight on realizing her depression had lifted. Here’s what came to her:
“You were given life; it is your duty (and also your entitlement as a human being) to find something beautiful within life, no matter how slight.”
What if we substituted “life” for the name of a brother, sister, parent?
I thought about my mother, who died at age 95 with Alzheimer’s. She had not recognized me for ten years, but I didn’t sense this as a loss since we had never really bonded. That was the loss.
For a long time, whenever I thought of her, it was mostly negative—sometimes with pity but never with warmth. But one day I realized that was only part of the story. She had given me many wonderful gifts: her sense of humor, direct speaking, a high regard for telling the truth. Integrity. A love of reading. Braces on my teeth.
Her perrenial disapproval hurt, but I’m certain my desire to achieve academically and professionally stemmed from a need to prove her wrong.
In a difficult discussion with a family member, how might our approach change if we could begin by saying thank you for all the gifts that person has given us?