Editor’s Note: Rebecca Malcolm, a Sacred Heart Catholic High School student in Newmarket, Ont., won second prize in the Fr. Ted Colleton Scholarship contest. This is an edited version of her essay.
Behind every great individual there is a family unit, acting as the backbone and support through which the individual develops and grows. In turn, the family can be thought of as the heart of society, grooming and creating those who will lead the communities of tomorrow. However, as society modernizes and the world progresses, the role of the family changes as well. It is natural for one to associate change with positive progress, but as technology, science and the values of society are altered to fit modern conceptions, the family is forced to endure certain transformations as well. With the focus of the world shifting to technology and science, the family suffers from a lack of attention and appreciation. The growing desire for and praise of individual growth, the inappropriate focus on wealth and the redefinition of family values weakens the immunity of the family, an organic structure, against the synthetic ploys of society.
The success of the individual has never been completely ignored in our world, but recent years have brought personal triumph to the forefront of young people’s aspirations. The desire to quickly advance oneself through education and discovery often leads to a pronounced selfishness in the individual. Communal goals are exchanged for personal ones, with the social sphere becoming more prominent than the familial sphere. This puts a strain on the family as a unit, as the journey towards fulfillment through success often proves difficult to do from home. Young students with inquiring minds jet off to universities all over the world, spending less and less time with their families. Exploration of what the world has to offer is an incredible experience, but for many, the exposure to such secular ideas encourages more exploration without any familial strings attached. The family is seen as a limitation to the individual’s ambitions, rather than that which powers the soul. Not pursuing what is ambiguously described as “bigger and better” things is seen as a demonstration of weakness and lack of ambition, offering endless encouragement to leave the home. The production of new technology makes keeping in contact with family during these exploratory periods easily achieved, but is too often seen as a replacement for meaningful interaction. The familial heartbeat is quieted by the noisiness of the world, and the individual struggles to hear it. It would be counterproductive to deny a young mind the right to search and learn, and it would be detrimental to the world if new generations of thinkers were forced to sit idle. Exploration of all kinds should be encouraged, and children of all ages should explore vivaciously, live largely and experience wildly. However, the rhythm of the family heartbeat should never be ignored, as it calls the individual back to the unwavering love and care modelled by the family in their formative years. The importance of individual success must be joined by the need to cultivate the family through mutualistic relationships and support. It is not uncommon to see families today with two working parents, which in some cases is a result of the parents seeking their own personal fulfilment outside of perceived familial boundaries. The effort required to maintain a steady job, and the insatiable appetite for personal achievement allows parents to justify spending less time with their children, and less time with each other. The root of this problem is the reliance on personal wealth to prove familial worth. In some families, wealth has supplanted core values, replacing love with material lust. Making money, buying material goods, and enjoying those material goods has become the primary source of bonding. Movies, television and advertisements show families at their happiest when they are on expensive vacations and dining out. However, these are simply placebos advertised by the media, providing false nurturance. Lives become infested with these potent ideas, as the family body succumbs to their persuasion and forgets the simple joy of being together. Families must identify that their economic standing does not define their familial success, and relearn how to be happy with each other. In this day and age, money has an inescapable prevalence in our lives, and it is impossible to avoid the effect of the economy. However, the amount of money earned, and where that money is spent are not indicative of the unity of the family. True unity of the family will provide protection for the family body against the invasive ways of the economy.
The unsolicited redefinition of many core familial values has led to an undesired metamorphosis of the ethics of the family. Images of families and celebrities displayed in the media act like the common cold, spreading like an epidemic to which the family is not yet immune. Society has redefined the very idea of what it means to be a family, which the family body, in its weakened state, cannot easily combat. This begins with new ideas of what marriage and commitment are. Living with your significant other is no longer seen as a sign of long-term commitment, and often occurs out of economic necessity. Marriages are entered into easily and exited from just as quickly, with divorce being seen as an always-present option instead of a last resort. There is a freedom attached to the family that never used to be there, and it is leading to misconceptions about what being part of a family means. Promiscuity, infidelity and other examples of detrimental behaviours are tolerated more and more, threatening the integrity of the family. These misconceptions lead to misunderstandings, and the family becomes defined by loose terms that provide no guidance or boundaries. In this unbalanced state, the family body needs a detox to flush out the toxins that have invaded. The components of this detox are highly potent and proven to be effective – the original familial values of love, compassion, care and togetherness.
As philosopher George Santayana said, “The family is one of nature’s masterpieces.” A fundamental law of the universe states that nature proceeds from order to disorder, and the family is not exempt from this rule. Drugs and alcohol infect the family body, allowing jobs, friends and money to become the main influence on the individual. The family body is in desperate need of a return to homeostasis, where it can regain its strength in a balanced state. Like all things in nature, the family is subject to its environment and is part of a large network of elements that must attempt to live harmoniously.
The family is also a continuous chain, passing on values from one generation to the next, and it is important that the family be at its healthiest when this transfer of knowledge occurs. An unhealthy focus on individual success and wealth, as well as a lack of core familial values causes this transplant to be incomplete. However, strong family values such as compassion, loyalty and love can be the inoculation against these maladies and the many more that will attempt to demolish the family. Through it all, the family is the backbone of the individual, the heart of society, and the veins through which all that is good travels.