The (un)comfortable joy of family

I’m on holiday in the US for the first time since COVID, and just spent 5 days with my family for a reunion that brought some of us together for the first time in 35 years!

I enjoyed catching up with my cousins and their fun, engaging and diverse-in-personality kids. We ate and drank too much, lounged and talked for hours, and had a lot of fun in the pools and rivers nearby.

This element was comfortable in a way I’m not accustomed to, as I’ve been one of the more distant members of our family (living in Amsterdam doesn’t help). It was really great, so I understand how and why people with close families are more happy, safe and content than those without. It’s great to know that others have your back and that you can help them (or just share a meal) without any expectations of future change or obligations.

On the other hand, there’s also the fact (or issue) of interactions among folks with different lives and beliefs. We’ve seen how diverse outlooks have fuelled  a cataclysm of anger and othering on social media, and some of these dynamics have affected families (e.g., with respect to Trump or vaccines), but I think that most families have dampened down the rage by Forcing relatives to engage with others’ views. This dynamic has been in place for ages, so I am confident that most families will find ways to live with each other (agree to disagree) and compromise (respecting the potential for valid disagreements). It’s not an easy process, but it’s a valuable process — for those individuals as well as for societies that depend on cooperation for their prosperity. 

My one-handed conclusion is that the benefits family far outweigh the costs. Count yourself lucky to have your (extended) family, and make sure you “spend” enough time to smooth each others’ sharp edges.


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Author: David Zetland

I'm a political-economist from California who now lives in Amsterdam.

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