Thursday, July 17, 2008


Some folks talk too much; others talk too little. Some are always serious; others love small talk. Some are worth listening to; others are not. What do we do with all this in our family?

The poets and authors praise good conversation. They claim it is our greatest gift. So what makes conversation good? Small talk is essential because it can keep things interesting and light hearted. It needs to be balanced, however, with talk that carries more important messages. Information on the weather is usually helpful but talks need to turn at times to more personal things. Talk without guts is flimsy and without influence. The weather can’t compete with the pain of a big speeding ticket.

Good talk is as much about emotions as about words. Most of us are not good at sharing emotions in constructive ways. The art of dialogue is not just listening but also watching and wondering. The way a person talks says as much as the words.

So the skill of dialogue starts with a focus on the other person. The response needs to fit what is seen and heard. Only then can I share what’s on my mind. Until then, I can say a lot but I will likely not be heard. At this point we no longer have dialogue we have monologue.

Families have their own talk patterns. Some members talk more than others. Usually in the family there is someone who listens, that’s the person who can help the family talk helpfully. The person who listens can support and encourage the talker so he/she doesn’t need to keep going. The listener can also draw out from the talk a good point someone made but no one heard. Families need as many listeners as they can get.

In family dialogue, there is an important place for the person who can sum things up. After long conversation, it is easy to lose sight of what is worth remembering. Usually it is the role of a parent or other adult to put the lid on things. Sometimes a teenager sees things more clearly than anyone else.

Probably the poets and authors are right – good talk is the best there is for families.

So put the question to yourself and your family – Does my family talk?

Thursday, July 03, 2008


For most of us this is a silly question. If I put myself second to the family I turn into a non-person. I lose my identity and self-worth. I become a wimp following whatever the family says. I have a mind of my own. I have talents and I will do what I think is best guided by my own conscience.

On the other hand:

Let’s suppose that my family is a team - meaning we all decide together what is best for the family and what is best for each member. In this case, there is no boss telling me what I must do. Instead there are family members sharing their views as I explain what I think is best for me.

The family has a lot to offer. There is its culture, beliefs and experiences. There are people who want the best for me as well as the family. They have the advantage of a less biased view of what is best for me. In other words, I will hear ideas I would not have considered otherwise.

This team process is what has taken the business world a century to learn. For the company to be well off, it requires a team who will put company welfare first before individual wants. True, not all businesses are honest and scrupulous. Still, the big lesson is that with teamwork everybody wins.

If the business example is suspect, then try the spiritual example. The great religions, at least in theory, say that we find ourselves and our purpose through the fellowship as believers. They even claim that God Himself supports such team efforts.

So, the big question still is: Who is more important, Me or My Family?

If we have trouble with both business and spiritual references, then we can try science. Bill Bryson in his book “A Short History of Nearly Everything” demonstrates that in the entire universe there is no living thing that can exist solo. In biology and astronomy, the relationships in the body are the only things that are alive. In other words, in all the universe life is only to be found in groups of relationships. Ditto the family. In the universe solo is death - so too in our world and with our family.

So ask yourself the big question - who comes first, me or my family?