Family Squabbles

I certainly won’t be the first to whine about confrontation with blood relations. The frequency and strength of family squabbles are widespread.  I was forcefully reminded yesterday that when it comes to getting under one’s skin, there are few who have the exacerbating skill of one’s relatives. It matters not what the contest is about. The kerfuffle can for example arise from an innocuous comment jokingly directed to an aging sister to the effect that she is “over the hill”. Such an inert tease!  Yet when friction arises between relatives, whether the result of a mere scrape or a smarting cut, things deteriorate with uncommon swiftness.

Assuming the parties end by flying apart from one another (accompanied normally by huffs and puffs, maybe even some tears, occasionally door slamming and easily some rich language) what invariably ensues in private is a combination of oaths about what we  intend never to do again and general misery and misgiving prompted by the unhappy event. As angry as we may be, we haven’t the privilege to abandon or ignore those to whom we are related.

This lugubrious after-the-fact reflection must of course bring with it a comparison of the family brawl to a dispute with a non-related person. And while it may oddly be easier and more convenient to condemn with unfettered reservation the conduct of the family member, the argument is doomed to splutter as we reconstruct the drama. Because we are so close to one another we are unwittingly armed with far more intelligence about what it is that drives another member of our clan to react so unfavourably, a fact which effectively acts as a buffer. For example we are subconsciously alerted to the background dilemmas in the upbringing of the other’s children; or the on-going battle between the relative and his or her spouse; or office stress or moving accommodations.  The mitigating context is as thick as the sarcasm we’re anxious to pile upon their heads; and the one cancels the other.  In the end we’re left with nothing but piteous remorse and our minds are redirected to an inauspicious scheme to extricate ourselves from the mess.  Suddenly all the blame and condemnation is without fire-power.  One can only hope that in the heat of the initial argument social propriety was maintained and that we haven’t conveyed sentiments which are irrevocable.

There is a lot of talk these days about anger management.  When I considered applying that terminology to myself in the context of a family disagreement I found the description off-putting.  I was appalled to think that what I considered to be legitimate objections were lumped into the undistinguished category of irritation.  Upon further examination I realized that the business of anger management is directed to the manner of dealing with objection not the quality of the objection.   This makes the undertaking more palatable.  I prefer however to counsel forbearance rather than anger management; that is, I think it more desirable to forego the anger in the first place and concentrate on being open to the larger picture of life; viz., that difference of opinion is inevitable.  To dismiss unpleasant observation as anger is a short-sell in my opinion. It suggests an inherent weakness.

This may amount to mere semantics. Whatever the gloss that is put upon family hostility, the result is the same.  It may be better to learn to bite one’s tongue.  Besides in a family there is a hierarchy which has been afforded deference, beginning with the infallibility of parents, followed by the dominance of the first born, descending usually in order of age.  This regime is legitimized even by Biblical references.  To fly in the face of such authority is risky!