This week marks Thanksgiving, a holiday I most associate with family above all others. For those wondering whether to read on, this is mostly a positive tale, but does cause some pause for reflection. After all, we are talking about family here.
I grew up long distances from all grandparents, so the holiday was “just us” for a long time. Then marriage and children expanded the event to include a 300+ mile trip to the in laws, as my parents had already become SW Florida snowbirds, and were out of the picture for this holiday, especially for a family with three young sons. The Thanksgiving ensemble expanded to include the never predictable group of my wife’s three siblings, their kids, her parents and even grandparents in the beginning. It was chaotic and loving, as only family can be. “Loud and proud” we used to say to describe ourselves, much to obvious discomfort of those who risked a relationship by bringing along a semi-serious boy or girl friend. We commented if the guest could survive Thanksgiving, they were ‘keepers.’ Bringing a guest was never for the faint of heart. And some never returned.
As with any gathering of large families, there was s bit of family dysfunction lying under the surface. For some, it was resentment of those who seemed to believe that the prep work was done by elves. For others it was the forays into normally remote areas of the house, gathering chairs, benches, high chairs and folding tables from the basement, garage. This exploration was always a reminder of the aging of our parents and had the feel of an archeology dig.
And always, the tension of wondering who might say what, was always there. Speaking your mind was a good thing, we’ve all been taught. Maybe it’s not such a great theme for large Thanksgiving gatherings though.
Sometimes on the journey in, we discussed the list of topics that would NOT be brought up – always a smart plan for sustaining any marriage. The flash point subjects to be avoided started small and grew over time to include, but not be limited to: foreign conflicts/wars, Chicago politics, national politics, tattoos, auto care, private vs. public education, The Church – which meant Catholic Church, parenting (or lack there of) & maybe last, but not least – gun rights. Regrettably things were said every now and then to set off a minor skirmish, but not very often – we all valued the larger family too much to risk it.
Tip toeing around all this was an acquired skill perfected over time. We perfected our empathy skills and taught our sons to avoid those things that seemed to be hot buttons for others if we wanted a pleasant visit – a challenge with upwards of 30 people crammed into a small, hot ranch house. Those lessons in diplomacy, not perfectly learned I might add, have served our children well over the years.
I am sure more than few readers can relate. I’m also sure my spouse may want to take a crack at my family in the near future.
So what’s my above reflection about beyond some normal holiday family reminiscing?
Call me sentimental, but I see a metaphor this Thanksgiving week for our community.
It seems our local leaders should be encouraged to revisit their own family diplomacy skills. They are the leaders of our Fort Myers Beach family community. In case you have not heard, two council members separately walked out of the Town Council meeting this past Monday. For the details, see our story on the Town Council meeting in this issue.
We elect leaders to lead. This does not mean leaders are expected to be correct all the time, as sometimes being right does not matter. Leading does not mean digging in, and not yielding the floor or abandoning the sane and proven process of respectful collaborative decision-making. Leading means moving subjects forward, even if it means not getting exactly what you want, respecting your colleagues, burying your personal priorities and never taking your eye off what’s best for everyone – the entire family. It’s the whole family that’s important, just as it is at many family gatherings.
Our beach family extends beyond those who rode with you in the car to Thanksgiving dinner or your closest Town Council allies or the people who agree with you. We hear a lot about how we are a beach family, how even if we disagree vehemently, we make up and all is well. It’s conceivable that some members of our beach family may take advantage of that expected automatic island forgiveness to say or do things that they know are out of line. The only problem is, that vaunted auto-forgiveness doesn’t always work like that. Some members of the family conclude that they aren’t valued members of the family, that their opinions, issues and questions are less important than those who have an “in” with council members. And they disengage. And we all lose. Our beach family deserves to find a way where we all win.
We hope everyone enjoys a wonderful and blessed Thanksgiving this week. May all of us take this opportunity to appreciate the gifts we have been given, including the opportunity to live in this amazing corner of paradise filled with wise and wonderful people holding diverse opinions. May that appreciation lead us to a more inclusive and respectful community because each one of us in our beach family is important.