The Personalist Project

The other day I ran across a very useful trick--almost a litmus test--for evaluating how your home life is coming along. I hesitated to write about it, because it seems so obvious--once you see it. But I finally decided that if I find it so enlightening, maybe others will, too. Let me know what you think.

I've been helping to prepare a series of discussion groups, and we're trying to put our finger on what exactly makes a home a home. We're avoiding extremes. Some would insist that nothing counts as a home unless it contains a married couple and their own biological children. Others would rather throw caution--and distinctions--to the winds, and call "home" anything that feels homey--the less traditional and nuclear-family-oriented, the better. 

We're still working on a concise definition, but here comes the litmus test. The following is from the notes of my friend, Ann Brach. She distinguishes between two aspects of formation that any home should offer:

1.    Inward or individual orientation of the home: formation in support of the whole person, which corresponds to the dignity of the person and takes into account the individual needs of each one [...]
2.    Outward or social orientation of the home: the individual formation is aimed at the individual being able to form part of larger society, to work and contribute.

The two aspects are accomplished within the family, which

cannot be reduced to just personalized attention nor a protective environment nor merely a production plant for citizens.

Periodic reflection on how you're doing with each of these is useful. It's so easy to go off the rails in one direction or the other. There are families that aim to function like efficient factories, producing a certain number of approved members of society who can be relied upon to be presentable and acceptable in public. They're highly likely to live a "productive" life; they won't disgrace the family name. The bringing-up time is a period of formation that aims to fit the person neatly into the requisite mold before setting him or her loose. 

Other families suffer from the opposite malady. They nurture, they affirm, they're safe, they're homey, they're cozy, they don't get carried away with imposing standards--and they can produce people unequipped to venture into society, to contribute to its institutions. Sometimes they produce people who lack even the desire to try. 

There's a natural remedy to this in many cases: one day a child brings home a son- or daughter-in-law, giving the family an opportunity to catch itself in the act of moving too far in the direction of cozy inwardness.

And the remedy for the production-line tendency? I'm not sure, but I think catching oneself in the act would go a long way. I think many people who are raising their children in this impersonal, generic kind of way don't mean to, but have a misguided understanding of what it means to have high standards. They underestimate how different people can be--even children of the same parents, raised under the same conditions. Or they see the differences all right, but as obstacles instead of promising raw material. If they come to see that high standards are compatible with treatment that respects and nurtures the given--all the givens--then they're on the right track.

So there it is: your one weird trick for making sure your home offers everything its inhabitants need to flourish. Simple and obvious. Now to try to put it into practice.

I'll let you know how it works out.

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