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No matter where we’re from, we were all taught the importance of family. Has individualism changed the way we value it?
Even those of us who haven’t had very healthy or enjoyable experiences with our families growing up can often agree that family is important. Whether it’s untraditional, nonbiological, chosen or unchosen, humans need to be a part of a family that we can stick with and trust. Our need for the family feels like proof of the inherent nature of love and intimacy in who we are, and there is significance to the way we organize ourselves around these small units of support and interconnectedness.
The Baha’i writings provide a clear goal for humanity — to become as one large family:
Deal ye one with another with the utmost love and harmony, with friendliness and fellowship… This goal excelleth every other goal, and this aspiration is the monarch of all aspirations. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah
Certain tendencies in our society make maintaining love between people difficult. An emphasis on individualism inhibits the health of our family units. Patriarchal and abusive families might be the reason so many feel the need to become extremely independent of needing anyone. Western media’s focus on individuals rather than families or communities serves to keep the wealthy rich, and the void left where family bonds once existed leaves a convenient space for marketing.
Regardless of the multifaceted reasons for the popularization of focusing on ourselves, the effects of individualism have made themselves clear. We cut people off more often, estranging ourselves from our families and our friendships. Many times, when things get tough in a relationship, one of the first solutions people offer is to simply remove the person from your life because “you have to do what is best for you.”
“We let people go too easily and we shy away from having hard conversations”
While abusive situations certainly warrant this and practicing patience needs to happen from a distance with clear boundaries between people, sometimes the solution of cutting ties can be overused. It makes us rely too heavily on the notion that we do better when we exist completely detached from others around us. We let people go too easily and we shy away from having hard conversations, letting disagreements fester to separation.
The Baha’i Faith’s teachings encourage us to practice patience with our family and friends. Patience gives us the strength to work through tough times rather than completely detaching when things get bumpy:
It behooveth whosoever hath set his face towards the Most Sublime Horizon to cleave tenaciously unto the cord of patience, and to put his reliance in God, the Help in Peril, the Unconstrained. – Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf
Whether we decide to reach out to family and friends when we know they are in need, or if we seek to communicate more clearly when loved ones upset us, excluding circumstances of abuse or neglect, gravitating away from cutting people off means gravitating towards strengthened family. In addition to seeking closeness in individual family units, the Baha’i writings suggest that valuing those around us rather than placing our sole focus on ourselves has implications for our entire community:
Unless and until the believers really come to realize they are one spiritual family, knit together by a bond more lasting than mere physical ties can ever be, they will not be able to create that warm community atmosphere which alone can attract the hearts of humanity, frozen for lack of real love and feeling. – Shoghi Effendi, Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities
“as families receive support, individuals will find joy in each other”
As our communities evolve and grow, our families can extend much further than the confining definitions we previously assigned to them. As we become more familial, kind, equitable, loving, and just, individual families will become strengthened. And as families receive support, individuals will find joy in each other because of the beautiful relationships they have in their lives.