Sunday, February 16, 2014

Friends and Family and Relatives

I have found throughout the years that there seems be a difference between friends, family, relatives, and acquaintances. Some of my views are likely uncontroversial, while others might raise an eyebrow or two.

Let's start with acquaintances. Acquaintances are people that I only know slightly. Generally speaking, I'm likely to be on good terms with those I consider as acquaintances, and have no ill will toward them, but I'm not close to them, and would be hesitant to be totally open with them about certain things. I may still get together with them on occasion, or in some cases on a regular basis, and will likely have fun when I do, but I don't consider them actual friends (yet--that could change, obviously).

Relatives are simply those who are related by blood, or by marriage. Let me take an easy example: my biological father. I've never met the guy. I know a few things about him from my mother, but he's never been a part of my life in any real way. We're related by blood, but I have no familial feelings toward him. Were we to meet, that relation would not, in my view, obligate either of us to behave in any particular way, or to feel any particular emotion. 

Sometimes in books and movies we see people who have found their long lost father, mother, or sibling. Sometimes they end up having to make some kind of choice involving that person, and there may be a line along the theme of "but they're my father/brother/mother/sister/etc," with the clear implication that this fact alone obligates a person to some amount of fealty (even if this requires violating ethics, as it sometimes does). But why should it? What about that genetic relationship implies that there should be any kind of loyalty or obligation?

To continue with my personal example, my biological father is not someone who has done any of the things one expects of a father who raises his children (through no fault of his own, as he didn't know about me). He never taught me, fed me, clothed me, scolded me, sheltered me, or loved me (kinda hard to love someone you don't know about). If you know your father, if your father was involved in you growing up, then take all that out, good or bad, and that is where I'm coming from. Had any of those things happened, then perhaps there could be an argument that I owed him something (unless the bad outweighed the good, such as if he'd been abusive), but without them, all I owe him is genetic material that he passed on in a single moment of orgasm. I don't see how that brings about a requirement of any sort of loyalty, especially if that were to cause conflict of some sort in my life, or require me to violate ethics or morality (which is frequently the case in those books or movies I mentioned). No one is owed such loyalty that they can ask for or demand a violation of ethics or morality.

Now, before I get to what I consider family, let me first consider what I see as friends. It's an ambiguous term, and not one that lends itself to an easy definition, but I shall attempt a basic description. Friendship denotes a certain degree of closeness, of commonality of mind. It doesn't necessarily mean that you're the same, but I don't think it can happen without certain shared values and interests. There is a shared mutual affection between friends, which they may or may not develop to a level of love. And of course trust is a necessary component. Without a degree of trust, I don't think one can call someone a friend. Being able to enjoy doing stuff together is a factor, but it's not a factor that can form a friendship on it's own. One requires the ability to open up with someone who could be a friend, and reveal more of the private self, as opposed to the public face that we generally show to the world. A lack of trust would undermine that ability.

The people I consider my friends are people with whom I share that trust and mutual affection. We generally have interests in common, which can form the basis of conversations as well as activities. But there is also a shared empathy, a willingness to at least try and understand the other person's point of view. It's not always possible to completely understand another's experience of life, but the empathetic attempt and caring is there.

And now for family. Family really has no connection to whether someone is a blood relative (as you might have guessed from my earlier discussion of relatives). Family is something that you choose, and that develops from specific friendships which have themselves gone from a basic friendship to a close friendship. Those I call family are those I would drop anything for in a time of need, and whom I trust implicitly. I'm willing to open up far more of my private self to someone I consider family, and am generally comfortable doing so. They've earned my loyalty and my trust, and my affection for them can most properly be called love. There's more to it than mere friendship.

Family is special. It's a choice, and because it's a choice, rather than an obligation that supposedly results from a close genetic connection, it means more--a lot more.

Note: While writing this, I came to realize that there are aspects I haven't necessarily thought through entirely, and thus the views expressed here are more likely to change than other views I've expressed on this blog. I welcome any comments, thoughts, ideas, or discussion.*

*Then again, all my views have a possibility for change as a matter of principle, and I always welcome comments and discussion.

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