The United States is a Family

As I argued in my previous post, “Love Thy Neighbor,” I believe that thinking of the groups we are in, such as our neighborhood, county, or even country—thinking of them as a family helps us land on sensible and heartfelt decisions regarding political beliefs. 

If we think of the United States of America as a family, then its characteristics, strengths, weaknesses, and parameters will also look like those elements of a family.

So, what does a family look like? The family lives in a house. The house has doors for entering and exiting and windows through which we see the world. The family members are made up of a variety of people. Some have brown hair; some have blond hair; and some have no hair! Some are fun-loving and some are melancholy. The point is diversity is common in a family.

There are some characteristics that are more difficult regarding families. Those doors on the house sometimes get locked—not always, but often at night, leaders of the family fasten the bolt to prevent thieves and unwanted folk from coming in and hurting the home and the family members. These people have not been given permission to come in: they do harm and therefore must be prevented from disrupting the peaceful, healthy, and dynamic life going on within the house.

Furthermore, some family members cause their own problems for families, such as not pulling their own weight in terms of work or getting involved in things the family does not value. In these cases, sometimes family members must themselves be disciplined or have limited access to other, more productive family members to keep them safe.

So how does this apply to our nation? Well, our family—our nation—has characteristics, strengths, weaknesses, and parameters. We Americans are known for our outgoingness, independence, and genuineness. We are wealthy as a nation and generous to other nations. We are also bossy and loud, especially when we visit other nations that tend to be less open in public communication. Finally, like other nations, we have parameters: We have a northern border with Canada, a southern border with Mexico, and the Pacific and Atlantic oceans are barriers on our western and eastern shores, respectively. These parameters serve as the exterior walls of our home, but our nation also has doors and windows through which we see the world, invite the world in, and limit the world from entering. Above all, we as Americans do not want thieves or unwelcome folk entering our home to hurt the family members, the residents of our home, our nation.

You know what’s coming: Hang with me here! How can we, as a family, ensure that admirable characteristics, strengths, and healthy parameters continue? Specifically, how do we ensure that we can allow friends to visit or even live in our home who will fit into our family and bring strengths to us and be beneficial? I don’t have all the answers to these questions, but I do know that if we consider the United States as a family, we can make political decisions that can better ensure that all of our residents are safe, happy, productive, and are helping to advance the goals of our family.

We as residents and citizens—Americans—must consider not only how to welcome people from other lands whose dream it is to be an American but also how to prevent those unwelcome and harmful folk who also want to enter our home—but to do ill. How do we Americans navigate the world of immigration? I argue that our decision-making as a nation regarding this longstanding and important topic—and in many ways uniquely American—MUST be in terms of thinking of our home, the United States of America, as a family. Considering our family first—as each of us does on a daily basis in our actual physical home—is the only way we can truly have a national conversation about this issue.

As I said, I don’t have all the answers. I know the analogy breaks down. However, being a part of a family and keeping it safe is of the utmost importance to every one of us. Every one of us Americans wants good things for our family.

The United States is a family. ~nja

Love Thy Neighbor

How do you think about politics? What I mean is—what are your thought processes as you make decisions on what you believe regarding national politics, statewide issues, or local concerns? Do you base your views on traditional values, biblical considerations (not necessarily the same thing), or social justice? 

Here’s an idea: What would happen if we consistently thought of groups we are in—whether our country, our state, our county, our neighborhood, our school—as a FAMILY. Would that change anything in terms of how we landed on our beliefs?

Take an easy example: During Hurricane Harvey, my parents were almost stranded in their closed-in neighborhood. We needed help getting them out. We had no truck, no towing capability—and no boat. However, we had at our fingertips a Facebook group dedicated to our neighborhood. Instead of wringing my hands wondering how we could save my parents, I went straight to this “family” and asked for help. Two strangers—men I had never seen before—immediately offered to use their trucks to bring out my parents. Can I emphasize: I did NOT know these men. I did NOT know their motives. I did NOT know if they were trustworthy! But—this group, which consisted of lots of unknown people in my neighborhood, I considered family. If these men had been biologically related to us, I wouldn’t even hesitate in asking for help! How could I, then, ask for help here? Because I consider my neighborhood my family.Although the weather was dicey, these men saved my parents with their trucks. I’m pretty sure my parents were one of the last to be removed from their neighborhood without a boat.

A view of my parents’ 2017 home under water after they were rescued.

Different times demand different perspectives, but my idea is that as we consider what response we should give to certain events or scenarios, we either put boundaries around these groups as if they were our families—and protect them—or we open boundaries up to allow new ideas or other responses in to the family. In my parents’ situation, we clearly were in a crisis, and I knew there would be people out there who would graciously help us—so I opened up my perspective on this group to include them as family. And they did help us—just like a family would. Of course, there are times when being a family means we don’t help—because it would be appropriate to protect our loved ones as we would a family.

So—what are your groups? Can you think of these groups of people—neighbors, school chums, nation—as family? I argue that you can. Tell me what you think! Next time we’ll take this concept a bit further. ~nja

red-head boy with teacher on zoom

2020: Socially Decentralized, Not Socially Distant

            Are there any aspects of society you feel have benefited from living in the midst of a pandemic? I don’t want to minimize the pain and sorrow we have felt: many of us experienced the devastating death of a loved one due to the coronavirus (unfortunately, I did), know those who contracted it, or even became sick ourselves. But the overall effect of the virus has had, in my mind, not only dilatory repercussions, but some cultural changes that are things I am truly grateful for—and I wonder if it is the same for you.

            For example, a huge outcome of being forced to stay home was my family’s introduction to Zoom. Because of COVID, last summer I participated in several satisfying Zoom meetings with extended family that I almost literally never see. I saw cousins, second-cousins, aunts, my mom, my dad—all on Zoom—and we were scattered across the country! What on earth! My dad was on Zoom? Yep! He was 84 at his first online experience, and I’m very proud of him for that! Did you and your family do something like this? Zoom is here to stay, and I bet we all know how to work it! This is huge! We can now connect, directly, face-to-face (so to speak—stick with me now!) even if we are a million miles away from each other! It does take access—someone must have access—but even in our pre-COVID world, our society was already hanging out online. And now we’ve got the greatest generation joining us, in an easy way, from home! This is not only transformational for our society, but it has become the norm, putting at our fingertips the ability to meet people a world away, simultaneously eliminating much of our social-distancing angst.

            Dare I suggest another decentralized benefit: the schools. Okay, hear me out! Through the social distancing mandates on our schools, all of a sudden, we as a society have been forced to pay closer attention to what is going on in schools, what our kids are learning, and who our teachers are. Because of COVID, now moms and dads know more directly the content of curriculum, methods of teaching, and individuals who are pouring into our kids’ lives in a way our society hasn’t known since parents regularly taught their children in the nineteenth century (just a few years ago!).

            Now, I do realize that extremely difficult circumstances have occurred for many, many families whose parents were both working and for whom the concern of childcare became an overwhelming factor. Under duress, many had to make difficult choices regarding childcare and maybe some did not even have these choices. But, there are two sides to the COVID coin, and I am highlighting here the flip side—that of this virus forcing us to think about some important things: Are my kids getting the best education we can offer? Is it best for us both to work at the same time? What about this: Have we as a family been able to orchestrate things at home in a way that brings us closer together? Maybe the answer to these questions is a resounding YES! Rethinking these and the other questions is not unhealthy; it is beneficial. It is like a reset—a restart, one which can help us be creative in moving forward in our family life.

            I’m wondering what your experiences were this year, particularly in regards to childcare, school options, or Zoom! What worked? What didn’t? What would you like to stay? ~nja

White coffee cup with finger pointing to "See the Good" on it

2020: Beneficial?

            Have you recovered from 2020 yet? I’m not quite there yet, and I have trouble even thinking about 2020 in light of those terms!  “Recovery” implies a need to recapture a lost but beneficial state due to illness, malaise, discontent—even injustice—and I hate having in my mind an image of a time in my life that is so fraught with pain. I wonder if you feel this way as well?

            Still, recovery from a situation such as this can help us rethink what has happened. For example, is it possible to think about this past year as a good thing? Was there anything beneficial that happened—and I mean specifically in response to COVID and its associated repercussions?

            For me, the answer is a resounding YES! In spite of the constraints put upon us, whether by the virus, a governing body, or an individual, in my opinion, some wonderful things, and even purifying things, happened not only to me, but to our society, directly as a result of the limitations we experienced over the past year.

            What am I talking about?

            Well, in a broad sense, our society became decentralized in many ways. And in certain aspects of this decentralization, we became more flexible, more creative, and more aware of what our lives were like, forcing us to modify and even abandon some things.

            For example, the most immediate consequence for me personally was in my teaching. Almost literally overnight, the composition courses I taught went fully online. In fact, within one week, my university trained me to use the online environment so that my students would continue to succeed. Don’t misunderstand me—this training and mental shift was not easy. It was a brand-new digital download! But, simultaneously, I became doubly marketable. What? Yes! All of a sudden, I was much more at ease, by being forced out of my comfort zone of the face to face classroom, with navigating around Blackboard, a common platform for courses but which demanded a certain nimbleness online. This means that not only was I prepared for my students, but I would have the option of moving anywhere in the world if I wanted to—while still remaining connected to my beloved Sam Houston State University. This unexpected situation also pointed me directly to becoming officially certified to teach online—not just in an emergency, but by choice, deliberately, with an eye towards doubling my teaching skills and creating a friendly online environment for my students.

            In a flash, my teaching transformed into something full-bodied and flexible. I could go or be anywhere to do what I loved most! This was a great thing! In spite of the difficulties, COVID forced me to stretch into new areas professionally.

            So, what about you? What changed in your life for the better because of the past year? Name one thing, and ask yourself if you used that one thing to develop yourself personally or professionally. ~nja