By Chris Wilson
It is fair to say that for every life form there are two natural forces that simply have to be obeyed. One is the need to imbibe or utilise water, in one form or another, and secondly there lies a need to regenerate life through genetic transfer from one generation to another. Nature has solved the problem of water intake and usage very successfully, albeit we might find her resolution very cruel at times. Whole scale regeneration has also resolved, but with this second area one problem emerges, and as so often in nature, the problem lies with mankind. Why is this so, well just think for a moment how the rest of life carries on?
For all other life forms the forces and consequences are very simple.
You breed or regenerate as soon as you can, optimise the chance for new life to flourish, and get breeding again as soon as you can. How successfully you breed, or how long your young survive, is sometimes out of your control, and more in the control of your local environment and your predators, but as a system it works well, despite an interwoven pattern of affection, indifference, and at times sheer brutality.
For us humans though it is so very different, for having acquired the facility to think, we act, and this is where we really get stuck in the mire. The trouble for us poor devils is the problem of our bodies telling us to one thing, while our minds, burdened by morality and concepts of right and wrong, tell us we must refuse. We all like a good story, and every story has a beginning, middle and an end, so this must have the same. Let us start at the beginning, surely nothing can go wrong there?
We have already discussed our complex entry into adulthood in the chapter of Babes and Sucklings, so start this discussion at the point where we decide to get married, or to settle down in what we hope may be a permanent or long- term relationship. We all lead different lives, but for most of us three paths are trodden with monotonous regularity, and, as stated these are the somewhat stony paths of relationships, work, and play. The last two will be addressed in later chapters, but when you look closely at relationships a very curious picture emerges, and it is one that has confounded logic and common sense, and all participants, for years. Logic dictates that, having gained freedom and the respect of adulthood, and in accordance with natural law, we would wish to express our natural emotions as freely and as openly as possible. We are humans though, so forget such logical simplicity. We ignore our natural bodies and feelings; we seek to hinder or denigrate those who refuse to obey such directions, and finally endeavour to pursue a dream of generally life long monogamy.
The first stage of this process is relatively straightforward, and seemingly needs little investigation. We look around your local environment, or possibly further away, and assess whether or not a suitable life or breeding partner might be available. We know this is the right thing to do, both internally and externally, as all our friends, generally platonic by nature, urge us to seek someone for this role, a lot of other people are doing the same, and our bodies certainly agree. Then we find someone we like and hope that they might like us. Let us assume that attraction is mutual. You both get increasingly excited, as do your friends, and a relationship develops very nicely, much to the gratification of both yourselves, as a couple, and to those around you. Stage two arrives, and you and your potential mate decide to get engaged. This is brilliant, and everybody tells us so, but then stage three looms; marriage; and in doing so all our friends, especially your closest friends drag you down. Don’t forget your friends, they murmur, don’t forget your friends.
These are the friends who have urged us to seek that one special person, and virtually pushed us down the aisle, but now that we have succumbed, they seemingly seek to hinder any such desires. However we do reach stage three, and what an absurd position we find ourselves in. There we stand, with witnesses, all ready and waiting, to seal the happy day. Some day, some happiness, as when we look at the vows do they really make any sense, and are they really a true reflection of our who we really are, let alone of life all around us? If a marriage term is anticipated to last fifty years or more, how can anyone possibly guarantee to honour the vows spoken on that day? We live in a world where we can meet new people and experience new things on an almost daily basis. We have no knowledge of how we will be in twelve months time, let alone in fifty years, and if we cannot know that of ourselves how can we assess our partners?
We have no advanced knowledge of health changes over the years, and even if we could know such things, we still have one major stumbling block, ourselves. Do we really think that something as artificial as marriage can possibly control our natural breeding appetite, and do we really imagine we can turn of the very senses, which have driven us for years, especially as it is precisely such senses that have led us to where we are now? When we are single and sexually active we naturally assess potential breeding partners that cross our path, and quite right too, for how else can we pass on our genes? When we are married however, we agree to forsake all others, apart from the polygamous marriage variations, so where does that leave us?
It leaves us window-shopping, and occasionally it leads us to actually buy or steal, and what a mess this becomes. Everybody attempts to deny such forces are in operation, but married men are certainly aware of what is around them and, if they are honest, women operate the same. The sad thing is that marriage is often compared to an ongoing building project that, if nurtured and maintained, will grow and develop for years. This is all very good and noble, but if it was a building, and you sought the advice of a structural engineer, what would he think of the suggested underlying foundation? Historically he might see, as others see, a value in its underlying inauguration, as it has offered a degree of protection and security not always guaranteed in days gone by, but structurally I doubt whether it would pass any technical inspection, and its anticipated term of maturation would be questioned by all.
Astonishingly some marriages do work, despite the rise in divorce statistics, and the apparent decreasing importance given to marriage; and some couples do stay together for fifty years or more. This being so it is interesting to speculate what holds such relationships together, so as to see whether such binding forces may be applicable or useful elsewhere. It may seem that there is one force that cannot be ignored, and that is the curious notion called love, yet that is one driving force that I will deal with quickly as it seems to lie beyond full definition, and as it seems to be more of a compound reflection of rather more mundane forces around it. I do not deny its presence or power as anyone who is in love, or who has been in love, will attest to its strength and durability, but looking at the effect of love in isolation is akin to looking at the effect of an explosion without appreciating what caused the explosion to occur. This might sound like heresy to any romantic, and appalling to any hotelier, florist or retailer, but once we strip the candyfloss, and join the real world, what do we really see? Do we not see marriage as a business, and one that has to be properly financed, resourced, monitored and controlled? Within such a venture would we not seek to draw up a business plan, and both state and sign a legal contract of intent over a considerable number of years?
Even with such safe safeguards does not the progress of such an enterprise depend of continual assessment and adjustment of such plans, and the role that each partner, let alone other participants, has to play over such a period of time? In this particular business what is on offer to all involved? Outside of the human race we all recognise the driving forces of food, water, security and sexual release and potential genetic regeneration. We term these as the basic building blocks that all life needs so that it may survive, and in addition we appreciate the myriad of ways that such goals are achieved, often under a bewildering array of circumstances. Are we so very different? Why is it that we have to be so different, what right do we have to claim to be so very special? Is any relationship really God given, written in the stars, or fate, and does love really conquer all?
If the appreciation and maintenance of the aforementioned building blocks is good then yes, marriage can and does work, but only if the importance of such blocks is given due consideration, and only then if continual compromise and adjustments are made. In any such marriage three elements of lust, friendship and companionship occur, and put together they are akin to producing a fine cheddar cheese, or similar product of that ilk. At first marriage, like our cheese, is in its infancy or in its youth.
Though insipid and pale at the point of conception, it soon bursts forth full of vigour and vitality, lustily impacting on anyone within range, and blocking anyone who stands in its way. Within a few years however the cheese begins to mature and settle down, and though the passion of youth is still a powerful force for some, other forces come into play. These are the forces of friendship, companionship, and despite their relatively lower profile, they have a power and strength that few can, or should ignore, for is it not such forces that really keep a couple together? Certainly it is not our physical bodies, for even with intervention or corrective surgery, time is no healer, and our bodies will always fade in the end. Not only that, familiarity can often breed at least indifference or contempt, so it is a doubly dangerous path to pursue. Let us end our marriage on a bright note, and look at a couple that, against all odds, have survived the years to still be as one.
Battered and scared they may be, older they certainly are, both in body and mind, and we would hope that they might be wiser as well. I wonder though whether this is so, for is not the wisdom of certainty fools gold, and largely left for the foolishness of youth alone? Is not one of the joys of maturity when you realise you know nothing at all, and that such absence of knowledge is a state much to be desired? Being old is like looking at a sunset, revelling in its presence, but with no knowledge or interest in why or how it is there. In doing so you are just glad that you have eyes and senses to appreciate its beauty, and that there is hopefully someone beside you to share your joy. You may both be tired, and Mother Nature, has been downright cruel as the years have gone by, but you have and survived, and still you live to fight another day. Now friendship and companionship hold full sway, and thank God they do. They have been there from the start like silent currents that propel an ever-moving stream, and they will be there at the end. After all is it not the recognition and nurturing of such values, as well as the care of the building blocks, that generally hold divorce or separation at bay?
If we do manage to keep the last two items at bay another factor often emerges, and that is a development of family units. There are as many types of families in the world a there are individuals to fill them, so I do not intend to look at each in turn. It would take to much time, and if we were to do so, we might be distracted from the broader implications that stand before us all. This is a potentially huge area, so possibly it is a good idea to identify the areas that we might seek to review. If this is the case, what if we were to address how we view family units, assess whether or not such a view is realistic, and then to consider whether such a concept has a real future at all.
First things first, how do we view the family? Do we not view such a unit as if it were an old boxer, sitting in his corner after a long and gruelling fight? Battered, bruised, bloodied, tired and ill at ease, would he not look back at us, wondering what our verdict would be? I think we are more than a little unfair on the boxer, because do we not unfairly build him up in our dreams, and then blame him for our own dishonesty when he sits, in the flesh before us? Furthermore have we not created the boxer, he has not fought many a battle for us, so if he has failed, should we not take the blame? Every boxer has a manager, so why don’t we become his manager and thereby help this dishevelled old warrior back on his feet once more; after all has he not served us well over the years?
If we were to do so our first task would be to identify what we mean when we refer to the family, so what if we define it as possibly the most instinctive, and fundamental mating group that we, or any other animal knows. Broader social family group will be discussed in the next chapter, so let us investigate our current definition and see where it might go. If we were asked to describe an ideal family unit might we not eulogise about cosy houses with blazing coal fire, and within such a setting might we see Mum and Dad lovingly looking down on their equally loving and equally responsive children, who are looking back, with equal adoration, in return. A Grandmother or Grandfather might also be there, as well as a loveable family dog, or a curled up cat, purring fit to ill, but whoever may or may not be there they are drenched by, love, warmth, security, support and serenity that surrounds them all.
This is a pretty dream and, if we have the time, there is no real harm in its being maintained, but are we not foolish to try and carry such a dream into reality, especially as most of now lead such complex and at times fragmented lives? As ever, is it not time to grow up and face reality, and appreciate that, just as our lives have dramatically changed over the years, we need the family unit to do the same? Ideally we might say and think that in such a family both parents would be present, but by stating that, are we not making the assumption that such two individuals are the best people for such a role. Just because the couple in question can make a baby it does that mean that they will inevitably become good parents, and if it turns out the child is better elsewhere, or that one of the natural parents should leave, would that be such a crime?
One of the guiding concepts within modern management is the implementation of a flexible control system so that the product, once formulated may change and grow as external, or internal pressures are applied. Can we apply such a discipline to our family unit, of course we can, for is such a unit any less of a product than say a pack of drawing pins, albeit our product has somewhat greater complexity? Whatever the family unit consisted of in our early ancestry is partly a matter of conjecture, and it is true that it developed over the years to encompass a fairly tight bloodline male and female support grouping, but that was then and this is now. With the lives that we live now can we really expect such a system to be still set in stone? Of course we would like it to be there, it is always feels good when our dreams become reality, but with such an important area of our lives isn’t more important to concentrate on what we can do, rather than on what we should do? We have to recognise the demands of sexual, financial, work, and lifestyle diversity are different in every society and that they continually change with time, and that such demands that surround us today are real, powerful, and, at present, here to stay. Quite simply we cannot look the other way
I do believe there is a future for the family though, but only if we view such factors in a different way. Instead of viewing such items as obstacles, or negatives, that need to be fought or cleared away, what if we were to view them as assets that might enrich our lives. Our track record for diversity is well recorded, so why not give it a try; after all, looking at the current state of family relationships we seem to have little to lose. What we may have to accept though, is that any resultant family unit may not automatically successful, and that some might not even survive. We all want to be part of a happy balanced family, and to see such units around us, but we need to remember that we are still part of nature, and, as ever, nature can be incredibly cruel.
So it is we now leave the bloodline family and look at the larger social families so many of us enjoy but before I would like us to end by reflecting on a definition of family in a play by Dodie Smith, called Dear Octopus. Right at the end one of the main characters makes a speech to the assembled family and he states that the family is like an octopus. It has many legs, it bends, it stretches, but, unless we are remarkably stupid, or unlucky, it never quite fails. Perhaps this might be a lesson for us all.