A visitor to New York City was walking around the streets, enjoying the hustle and bustle. He noticed a new construction site and saw some workers near the sidewalk. Curious about what new building was going up, he approached the first construction worker and asked him what he was doing. Without looking up, he answered, “I’m laying bricks, isn’t it obvious?”
The man walked a little further and asked a second man the same question. The worker grunted, obviously in a foul mood and said, “I am just earning a day’s pay”. Since this wasn’t the answer the visitor was looking for, he persisted and approached the third man. He said, “Excuse me, I am really curious what you are building here.” The third man stopped working, wiped the sweat from his forehead and smiled. Then he looked skyward, and with a gleam in his eye, he responded, “I’m building a cathedral!”
All three men were doing basically the same work. However, it was their perspectives that were different. The first man had a job. The second man had a career. The third man was able to see the big picture and how his personal effort was part of something bigger than himself.
If we look at these three perspectives in the context of family life, it can help us examine the kind of culture that we are creating. We all have days when we can only see what is right in front of us. But as parents, we can help our children move beyond their own personal tasks to see the big picture. In fact, it is essential in creating synergy and unity in our families.
Part of the key in building such a family culture stems from being able to communicate a clear vision of the big picture and how each family member contributes something valuable. We may get caught up in the daily bricklaying, but if we can envision the cathedral and move through our days with intention and passion, we move towards being a healthier, happier family. Stay tuned for an important tool that can support your family as you develop this kind of culture.
Some years ago, my parents decided it was time to start downsizing. While looking at the best way to pass on furniture, momentos and other significant items to myself and my siblings, my dad took photos and created a book with each item labeled with its significant history. Sending copies to each of us, our parents asked us to indicate which ones we were interested in.
The larger pieces went to my youngest sister because she lived the closest and could pick them up. But each of us had the opportunity to request items that held special significance and we received at least some of our top choices. I chose the cedar chest that had always been in my parents’ bedroom. In order to ship it from Virginia to California where I lived, my father built a crate that met the standards of the trucking company complete with a slot underneath for the forklift to load and unload it.
There are many stories of siblings becoming embroiled in ugly inheritance battles when their parents pass away. The reading of a will can result in flaring tempers, siblings not speaking to each other and hurt feelings at a time that should be about reflecting on shared memories.
Dr. Stephen R. Covey said, "Synergy is better than my way or your way. It's our way.” I am grateful that my parents practiced this while raising my siblings and I. Synergize is the habit of creative cooperation. Within a family, it is teamwork, open-mindedness, and the adventure of finding new solutions to old problems. I strove to bring this element into my own family whether it was planning a road trip or tackling a cleanup project.
But it doesn't just happen on its own. It's a process that takes commitment, time and making it a priority. Synergy lets us discover things together that we are much less likely to discover by ourselves. It is the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. One plus one equals three, or six, or sixty--you name it.
Imagine pulling into your driveway after a long, stressful day at work. Before getting out of your car and greeting your family, you take a few minutes. Closing your eyes, you take three deep breathes. Pushing your pause button to get perspective and reconnect to your family, you say to yourself, “My family is the most enjoyable and important part of my life. I’m going into my home to feel and communicate my love for them.” Getting out of your car, you walk into your house, kiss your spouse, hug your kids and help get dinner on the table. After dinner, you take out the garbage, talk to your son about his school project and listen to your daughter practice her reading. By doing this, you rise above the fatigue and challenges from the work day to express love and care.
M. Scott Peck said in The Road Less Traveled, “The desire to love is not itself love…Love is an act of will—namely an intention and action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We chose to love. No matter how much we may think we are loving, if we are in fact not loving, it is because we have chosen not to love and therefore do not love despite our good intentions. On the other hand, whenever we do actually exert ourselves in the cause of spiritual growth, it is because we have chosen to do so. The choice to love has been made.”
The message that we get daily is that love is a feeling and relationships are disposable—from Disney stories to glorified Hollywood movies to top hit songs and in every area of advertising. It creates a false expectation about what love looks and feels like--that one just falls in and out of love and the relationship is focused on what I get out of it.
Lasting love in our families takes commitment and involve us working through the bumps and rough patches. It is so easy to be reactive. Developing the capacity to pause when emotions are running high allows us to create a space between what happens and our response to it. And in that space, we can step back, reflect and act with wisdom instead of reacting with frustration or anger.
As parents, we are called to model those characteristics that we want our children to inherit. So, pushing the pause button starts with us. It involves becoming more self-aware of my part in family interactions. If I am getting angry, I can simple say, “I am too upset to talk about this right now. I make better decisions when I am calm. Let’s talk about this later.”
Any successful marriage and family talks work, effort and sacrifice. It takes knowing that love is a verb. What would implementing a pause button in your family relationships look like?
I play flute in a community band and it brings me a great deal of pleasure. From the time I was in 5th grade, I have enjoyed the challenge of improving my sound and technique and learning to play with others.
Any person with an instrument can make lovely music but it is in a group that true synergy happens. Playing in both small groups—trios and quartets—as well as large concert and jazz bands, I have come to appreciate the almost indescribable way that music can move us to tears, inspire us to higher virtues and transport us to somewhere beyond the present.
Bruce Springsteen spoke about “those three minutes of perfection – when time stands still and the music just washes over you….” Of course, getting to this point represents a lot of perseverance and hard work behind the scenes.
Reflecting on what I have learned from my fifty years of playing my flute, I was struck by a few key lessons.