It is nearly an act of bravery to scan the headlines these days. Violent crime is up, each new senseless murder triggers another wave of sorrow, and the politicization of almost everything rips at the fabric of our being.
The official response to these events is usually hand-wringing. Someone steps before a microphone and demands an end to the bad behavior, as though the perps are glued to the nightly news, hanging on every word.
The building blocks that hold us together are crumbling. Many of those building blocks are beyond our spheres of influence. But one is within reach. The family.
As Pope John Paul II famously said, “As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.”
Why is the family key? Because families are the parts that compose the whole. Families are microcosms of the pillars that sustain cultures, communities and nations.
Every family is a microcosm of government. A family is where children learn about accountability, rights and responsibilities, checks and balances. A family is where children learn how to resolve differences, and to respect the rights to property and privacy.
It is in the family where basic economic principles are taught: the link between earning and spending; how to plan and budget; the consequences of not planning and budgeting; and the importance of giving, whether you have a lot or a little.
Every family serves as every child’s first school. Every parent is a child’s first teacher. It is parents who bear the ultimate responsibility for education.
Parents are the first to nurture curiosity and an appreciation for books and music, and create spaces where children can create and explore. Above all, a family is where children learn how to think and reason and separate fact from fiction.
The family mirrors a place of worship as well. The family is where children learn first lessons of faith, ideas about who God is, the meaning and purpose of life, and that every human being is our brother or our sister, for we are all of one blood, created in the image of God.
The family even serves a microcosm of health care. It is in the family where children learn personal health habits, how to care for someone who is ill and, sometimes, even how to care for the dying. Tenderness and compassion usually take root in the home.
All that said, you can be intentional about family and still have family members who make poor choices for an infinite variety of reasons. There are no guarantees with family but, even so, you don’t throw in the towel at the starting gate or give up short of the finish line. None of us can afford to give up on family. Family is the most important investment you can ever make.
So, who is my family? Phrased another way, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Yes, a thousand times yes. You don’t have to “be” family to act like family. We can all lend a hand — when we see a small everyday need, someone needs a word of encouragement, or someone is facing a crisis and needs others to stand alongside them.
Family health is key to returning the nation to good health, because the whole is only as strong as the parts.
Lori Borgman is a columnist, author and speaker. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.