Bringing Out the Best in Each Other

Please visit our YouTube channel to watch Rev. Ann Marie’s video recording of this reflection and reading.

How are things going for those of you that are at home with other family members? The response I am hearing from friends who have partners, kids, pets—all at home together without end—is, “We haven’t killed each other yet!” That might be a measure of success in this day when experts are clear that this stay at home situation is providing the perfect storm for increased domestic violence. 

We can do better than survive.

We can bring out the best in each other. But no pressure!

I will just say that what we need to do at home isn’t that different from what covenantal communities like this one have learned to do within congregational life. Families, like congregations, need a set of promises, and of expectations for how we will behave with each other—a set of expectations we all agree to return to again and again.

I hold in my mind often the gentle way I have heard Ann Perry call herself and those around her back into covenant when she says, “We begin again, in love.”

We do begin, again, in love, over and over. Her reminder usually to herself, but said when others also need to hear, is a lovely, gentle way to be called back. It is what moms with experience and grounding in UU values say and do, in congregational life and at home.

This isn’t just sentimental, this love. It isn’t just a lovely saying. It is the tree we belong to.

Practicing the ways of peace, bringing out the best from each other, has to do with of reminders of who we say we are. Integrity, aligning who we say we are and who we wish to be, or return to, requires that we communicate and negotiate with each other.

During this stressful time of staying at home longer, we must (we have no choice but to) respect the reality of where we are and where we are likely to be for another while. Under a legal order, or due to our own ethical choice, most of us will be at home. That is the larger truth. That is the reality that must be respected. The micro-truth is that although home ought to be the place of safety for all who are within its walls, safety is not just about being safe from the pandemic. Clearly safety means different things to different ones of us. It is, of course, my hope that none of us are trapped in a home that is governed by Lord of the Flies rules, where the “weakest lose.”

Yet, I am aware that even in the mostly peaceful of homes, many of us might be going through deeply unsettling emotions.

Perhaps you have been seeking advice on how to get along with each other in a tight environment. One of the articles I found enlightening immediately identified the “conflict and contempt” pattern that is arising between couples. Clearly competing needs are not being met.

It is as if we are in a social experiment discovering what happens when the flight side of “fight or flight” is restricted! We can’t really leave; but we sure can place the role of enemy on the one we supposedly love! 

Blaming and bickering becomes the norm.

The tense situation at home can be tough on all of us, especially when we don’t want to be “that” person.

So here is your chance to pause and find our way forward with an intentional act of peacemaking. 

First, it is real that we are safer at home. Second, there is real hope that we can and we will get through this.   

If you don’t yet have a family covenant, or if the default relationship standard in your pod of people isn’t yet based on patience and respect, start to make it so. 

Start with an “airing” of each other’s needs. 

Be prepared to say what you need. Be prepared to listen to what your partner needs. Listen for what your children need.   

Do the best you can to respect that the other people in your home have needs that may be different from yours. Then negotiate with each other regarding the best way to work those needs out. You may need to listen and negotiate way more often than ever before. What each of you needs and how to work it out may change from day to day, sometimes from hour to hour. Don’t be rigid; adjust your schedules as needed to adapt to who needs what when. 

We who are adulting are absolutely called upon to be clear about what we need, and to listen for what others are telling us they need. 

There may be limited resources as far as space, time, energy.

But you know what? There are no constraints on the amount of kindness or gentleness we can show. Those things are not in short supply. 

Remember to include fun, humor, creativity, sleep, good food, affection, exercise…

…and gratitude! Express thankfulness often, and elaborately! You can do this. We can do this.

Did you read the article in The Guardian that was all over social media yesterday? It was about human behavior and how we have gotten it wrong. Lord of the Flies (understood as a classic), written in 1951, was a novel about boys lost at sea who ended up on an isolated island and had to fend for themselves until at last they were rescued. It was a classic, required reading by many a school child, including many of us. It was masterful at capturing and depicting the popular conclusion of western culture that human behavior is best characterized as ultimately selfish. But that novel was not based on a real story.

And its assumptions were wrong. The Guardian article that appeared on social media yesterday was titled “The Real Lord of the Flies: What Happened When Six Boys Were Shipwrecked for 15 Months.” The author has been trying to correct the wrong assumption about human nature for at least the past twenty years. Rutger Bregman has been saying and saying that the assumption so masterfully illustrated in Lord of the Flies is simply not true. Again and again, real stories show that human beings are quite capable and more often do act out of friendship, cooperation, and loyalty. 

In his book Humankind, the same author, Rutger Bregman, shows how social scientists are proving that we do realize how much stronger we are as humans as we learn how to lean on each other. We learn the value of looking for the good in each other. In fact it is the way we have survived—even, some would say, that is how we have thrived—throughout history, no matter how awful things have been.    

And we will this time. It isn’t wrong-headed to be hopeful. It is right to realign to our given abilities to “begin again in love.”

To keep on beginning again, bringing out the best in each other, is our nature. It is the tree we belong to.

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