A bizarre couplet of communications happened only moments apart this week, inspiring this article about family unity. I was walking to the Coffee Collective for a standard cup of Joe when a 75-year-old friend texted me the following message.
“The country has never been this divided, even during the 60’s. I’m seeing longtime friendships fray because of political differences, to the point of obscuring the true reasons for bonds that had lasted for years. Not too many things bother me, but this is disturbing for our children. Now is the time for all of us to appeal to better…”
Moments later, a 19-year-old barista was on break and shared, “Topher, what worries me most is that people are so often divided and mean to each other. It boils down to respect and taking time to understand people with a different point of view. The best thing you can do is be nice to people.”
Denny and Malee, I couldn’t agree more. Even though you both come from different backgrounds, perspectives, and generations, you both have voiced a true illness plaguing our society. The Pew Research Center backs your observations with statistics in a November 2020 piece titled, America is Exceptional in the Nature of its Political Divide. Pew sums it all up saying, “America has rarely been as polarized as it is today.”
I believe the best changes that can be made in a person’s life start early with the first organization God ever created, the family. The Wiles family is far from perfect in regard to divisions, squabbles, tiffs, and tears, yet we are actively promoting a few premises in our children’s lives to help them overcome the plague in this current generation. Here are a few ideas that work to build our Family Forte that may help yours as well.
(A) Teach the idea of “honor all people.” This mantra is more than a trite saying; it’s a way of life that needs to be repeated often, shouted from the rooftops, and shared with your children. Most people don’t realize that this is a command handed down through the last 2,000 years by one of the most prideful and impetuous disciples of Jesus. In the middle of a discussion about relationships between wives and husbands, slaves and masters, government and citizens, Peter says these direct words, “Honor everyone.” 1 Peter 2:17a. Jesus sets that exact precedent when he chides the religious elite for hypocrisy saying, “As you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.” Luke 6:31-33. Purposely set this command as one of your primary family rules and remind your children of it often.
(B) Display the positives and negatives of unity. Years ago, my beautiful bride made a poster from a photograph of young Gabriel and Ethan walking down the road together holding hands. She captioned the bottom with “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity.” Psalm 133:1. Her goal was to remind our growing boys that the best moments of life come from their common bonds rather than their divisions. In contrast, whenever she questions the kids after a squabble, she has this perfect method for displaying the negatives of division. She asks, “Ethan, how does Clara feel right now? What emotion is on her face? What thoughts are running through her head?” Invest time with your children in the midst of triumph and trial to reflect on the positive and negative displays that come from unity and division.
(C) Train complementors, not competitors. Boys have this ingrained sense of aggression, competition, and war that starts oozing out of their pores at an early age, fueling many fights in families. When left unchecked, it can build into unbridled resentment, causing fissures in families many decades later. That innate childhood aggression can be good when turned in the right direction, so Ashley and I redirected it. When they were young, our boys were not allowed to wrestle, spar, or box with each other, but only with me. The result was that Gabriel often used his height to attack my upper body, while Ethan’s complementary shorter, stockier build was to take out my legs! The boys learned the deep abiding truth that they are stronger together than apart. Today, in sporting events such as ping-pong, basketball, and tennis, we still teach them that their job in head-to-head play is to train each other for success against other opponents. Over time, their play takes on a new complementary height when they realize they are complementary and not competitors.
(D) Model unity at home. Parents, children will do what you do before they do what you say. Do your absolute best to be kind to your wife, in-laws, boss, and community leaders in all moments, especially inside the four walls of your home. You can voice differing opinions and be strongly opposed to a platform without using inflammatory words or unkind actions. Your children will see the union you have with others despite your differences, and they will follow your example. When they see and seek unity, your family will be blessed for generations to come.
It was Jesus who taught us a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. Mark 3:24. Our Lord didn’t direct us to lose our identity, forget our opinions, or quietly submit to every whim of society. Instead, Jesus modelled for us how to honor everyone and live together in unity despite the differences. Friends, the cure for our divisive illness was shared long ago, and it is best administered through the family. May you be blessed with unity, peace, and family forte.