Families. If there's one time of the year we brush up against them, it's Christmas. For some, this is a gentle experience, like the caress of child's soft hand. For others, it's more akin to the grinding of a cement mixer. For most of us, it's somewhere in between.
Like everyone else, I had several opportunities at playing happy families over the Christmas period. To cut a long story short, I was told that I came across as too 'feminist' - if a gendered PhD in international political economy won't do it to you, I don't know what will! Nonetheless, it would be fair to say that I was seen as to favour one member of the family, a woman, too much.
My first reaction was to wonder that this was a criticism. Shouldn't one always jump to the defense of those in a weaker position? What else has my career been based on, over a decade working in NGOs, if not that? Surely that was the aim of life, to create equality?
As I mulled this over (no seasonal pun intended) I saw the situation in a different light. I left the NGO sector, in large part, because I felt overwhelmed by the fight between the haves and have nots. By jumping to the defense of anyone, I was perpetuating conflict. No matter how well-meaning, I realised I was part of the problem.
By seeing one member of the family as a victim, I created (however unwittingly) a villain. I created, if not a war, then I, at least, exacerbated the lines of tension that already existed. Yes, I was definitely part of the problem.
So I took a step back from my family crusade. If jumping in was not the answer, what was? Holism. A family is more than the sum of its members. It has a dynamic, a drama, if you will, that extends beyond them. If I jump into the drama, I'm a player on the stage. If I stand back, I move to a more creative role; I'm not the director, but perhaps I can weave a degree of gentle influence that the black and white of the victim/villain dialogue cannot achieve.
In practical terms, this means that I no longer jump into to 'save' the 'victim'. Nor do I shame the 'villain'. I realise the banter between them is a reflection of their inner drama, their own feelings of inadequacy, fear and inferiority. And because I was trapped in that drama for a large part of my own life, it was a part of my inner world as well.
The solution, as I see it at present, is to love them all; to have compassion for each of them. The drama they are playing out is just that: a play. It is not the truth of their souls, it is the drama of the ego. And I don't have to live there any more. I see the story, but I don't want to act in that play any longer.