I think it often but rarely say it, “If we would redefine our ideas about family we couldn’t help but support one another.”

Last winter I was playing a no-brainer online game. In this game you can send out a ship laden with goods to sell to anyone who might need them. There are also smaller communities where groups of people can chat and when there is a special mission we can share what we need in order to complete the goals. One day there was a gal who kept calling out for a particular member because she didn’t want to load a special item for fear that someone outside of our “family” (she used that word) might get it. I immediately jumped in, “isn’t everyone our family?” and then virtually redacted the sentiment with “…but I know what you mean.”

Why did I take it back? Thoughts about what “family” means to people constantly roll around in my head. Perhaps because my friends feel like family. Or because my parents were actually one parent and a grandparent. It could be because I see these pods of people who show up for one another – whether in neighborhoods, businesses or other institutional communities – who come to the rescue so readily that it feels familial to me.

We’re wired for community, togetherness, empathy, compassion, cooperation and Love. It was Darwin’s biggest observation of every species from insect to human; communities that love are communities that thrive. Behavioral scientist from across the globe agree that we’re pre-disposed to care giving. At least until we feel a threat.  So, how did we get so far off of the togetherness path?

You notice that the determining factor is “until we feel a threat.” In the case of the game I mentioned the woman trying to share her supplies with a team-member felt the threat of scarcity. To her, either the goods themselves were scarce or the time to get the goods was scarce. Either way her immediate reaction was to look out for her own. It’s an “I’ve got mine, you get yours” mentality.

If we extrapolate that out to they myriad of ways we can feel threatened in our day to day world we can see how quickly we allow for the fear that keeps us disconnected from others. We fear that people devalue our time when they reschedule, cut us off in traffic or don’t respond quickly to calls or emails. We fear that people are thoughtless (at best) or mean (at worst) when they break off a relationship, cut us off in traffic or speak harshly to us. In all of these contexts (and these are pretty small but they’re constant) we practice fear. Over and over again until we can’t help but see meanness, thoughtlessness and harshness everywhere we go. Creating and maintaining positive relationships is almost impossible in this environment because when we experience that much fear we live defensively- always. We cannot see what else might be true for the other person.

What happens when we feel connected with others is entirely different. When we love someone we see that they’re always trying to do their best, even when they don’t always get it right. Our loved one might be acting out but it’s because they’re hurt or grieving or a victim to their own pain and fear – we understand that they’re not a bad person. We do this over and over again as long as we feel connected to them in some meaningful way.

Where we see family we easily exercise grace because we practice seeing the best in them.
Where we see not-family we easily exercise anger…because we’ve practiced seeing the worst in them.

What is possible for us when we all practice thoughts about how we’re similar. Flawed, confused, hurt and scared AND growing, gaining understanding, healing and kind. Each and every one of us has all of these characteristics. Which means each and every one of us is constantly trying to do their best and yet still somehow screw it up.

You and I – we’re the same. We are family. Your mistakes impact my life and so do your successes. And, guess what, your successes wouldn’t exist without your mistakes so thank goodness we’re in this together!! As long as we continue to lean on each other and grow together we cannot help but improve this world because we are practicing Love. So next time you find yourself feeling the fear, the lack and the defensiveness take a beat and ask yourself how that person could be part of your greater family…better yet – how is that person just like you? Now…isn’t it easier to let it go and be sweet?

What about you? Do you find yourself looking out for “your own” first? If so, why? How does it make you feel? How do you wish others treated you when you make a mistake that triggers their fear?