Sunday, September 13, 2015


They say you can't choose family, and friends are the family you choose. That isn't really true once you get past immediate nuclear family and the first years of your life, i.e. the ones under your roof. Of course you can choose family. Family are the ones you spend sufficient time with to let the guard slip.

When we just meet people for a slice of cake, a beer or a meal it is a very controlled environment. When we start feeling tired, we can make an excuse to leave. If there are enough friends around, a buddy of mine taught me the art of ninjaing (leaving without saying so). When you are heading back to the same place for an extended period of time, you can't ninja. If your mood changes, you have to deal with it. You have to learn to treat people nicely even when you aren't in the mood for people. Quite often you can tell family by the fact that they don't treat each other very well. You don't get to be rude to friends. You can have banter, but it is normally of a good nature. When it comes to family, people start to push each others buttons. Another friend said this this was because your family are the ones who installed the buttons.

With family, you have to learn to deal with irritation. People clash over completely different perceptions of time, cleanliness, money, goals, responsibilities and reality. This leads to uncomfortable conversations even if people are brave enough to address them. Often they just ferment. In Sweden there is a tradition of leaving herring to ferment in a can. You know it is ready when the tin looks like it is about to explode. This takes 6 months to a year. Unlike Biltong (which South Africans love), even the Swedes who told me of this said it wasn't all that pleasant. The catch phrase 'But it is not as bad as it smells' is unlikely to win any advertising awards. Perhaps eating Surströmming is just part of being part of the Swedish family. Learning to have uncomfortable conversations is part of becoming family.

Surströmming - Not as bad as it smells

Even people who have been brought up under the same roof experience situations differently. Kid years are like dog years. A whole bunch is packed into a much shorter period of time. You are quite literally becoming a different person almost every day. Just sit at a family gathering with kids of different ages and watch them. Their experience of that event will be completely different. Add to that the different adult perspective and our worldviews are only loosely related. Every situation will lead to some sort of mini-conflict of perception.

But there is something wonderful about choosing to spend enough time with someone that they may start to irritate you. You get deeper. You get closer to the good stuff. You get to the dark stuff. A lot of the things that affect our happiness makes us feel very insecure. We only share them with really good friends, close family, priests, lawyers, doctors, teachers or others who we feel will keep the story in confidence. Heather Plett wrote a wonderful post on 'Holding Space' for people you care about. Learning to hold space is a powerful guide to creating deeper, more meaningful relationships.

A cup of coffee and a catch up with a buddy is great. If you want to choose someone as family, it is a deeper commitment.

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