The biggest challenge to those seeking belonging, especially in family, is acceptance. Once a person has demonstrated that they qualify for a place, it must be granted by those who inhabit the space already. Agency lies with those who are already there – it is not possible to force one’s way in, no matter how hard one tries. At the same time, one can’t just stand by and wait to be accepted. In this way, there may well be an exchange of giving of a different type, both of which indicate a willingness to compromise one’s own immediate needs and interests in the interest of helping someone else by improving both their experience through the process and their outcomes through the product of collective relationship. We learn about this fundamental social contract through the connections of family.
When someone feels as though they belong, they are much more likely to enter into the even closer ties of a relationship that can allow us to do more than just participate as one of many. This “character apprenticeship” comes about when an expert models, coaches and scaffolds us in the competencies of adaptive expertise and self-efficacy. They keep us in our groove and hold us to our purpose by inspiring, challenging and supporting us. We learn to articulate, reflect, and explore. We gather and analyse evidence, make decisions, and set goals. We then need to learn how to work towards achieving our potential, whatever that may be. In time, we may even learn how to stretch the boundaries of our potential and expand our capacity, as well as come to understand the limitations and parameters within which we might sensibly aspire. Purpose, persistence, and reflection are what will help us to get there in terms of our own qualities. Our agency is shared between ourselves and the experts who help us and then let us go on to be experts in our own rights. We can gain much from the members of our family in this way, not simply from being the recipient of expertise, but even more so from what it is that we pass on to others.
So, we can acquire strong and positive civic character and performance character through knowing we belong and through learning to fulfil our potential through character apprenticeships in our family situations. If we do, then we are much more likely to seek to do that which is good and right in our lives. We respond to the framework of values that we learn in family. Out of this, we shape for ourselves a moral code and a set of ethics which act as the principles and structures by which we choose to live our lives. This, then, is how we gain in moral character.
Through family, we can rehearse how to acknowledge the influence and kindness of others and, in turn, seek to give back to others. The courage, honesty, and humility we learn make us both better at doing what we set out to do, as well as better at creating a good impact on those around us. We can become genuinely transformed and in turn support the transformation of Our People and Our Place. We have come full circle – from seeking acceptance, we can now act to provide acceptance and belonging ourselves. We can give back to and perhaps even raise our own family by providing character apprenticeship to help others to achieve greater performance by realising their potential. And we can hold up a mirror to them as they strive to do what is good and right. We can help them to see what they are truly doing well, and encourage them to be the better versions of themselves as often as possible. This is, perhaps, what family, at its best, is all about.
We can contemplate our Family Connections by considering the following questions:
- Do I reach out to family members to find out how they are doing, what they might need, and how I might help them?
- Do I consider my extended family as rich in experience and wisdom from which I can learn?
Do I express my gratitude to my family for the care and support which has taken me to my current stage?
- Am I respectful of and do I give thoughtful consideration to the advice of my family in shaping my educational and career journey?
- Do I try to find ways of problems with close family members and repairing the relationship instead of running away from them?