“The family is one of nature’s masterpieces.” – George Santayana, philosopher
“…she was constantly apologizing for her very existence.”
Penelope (Penny) was an unassuming, middle aged woman with short dark hair and old fashioned glasses that seem to weigh heavy on her face. Penny was 40 years old, single and unattached. She said she preferred it that way. She had a bright eyed, friendly persona, but with a soft, retiring style of communicating. She seemed to be striving not to be a bother to anyone in everything she said and did. It was like she was constantly apologizing for her very existence.
Penny was apparently her family’s genealogist. She took great pride in tracing the various ancestors from which her family had evolved. As well, I got the impression she was very skilled at it.
She spent a lot of time keeping her family updated on her latest findings. Some of these findings were ignored skeletons in the closet, others were ignored heroes in that very same closet.
At her first consult, even though I perceived she was on time, she came in saying she was delayed due to the traffic. When I told her she was actually on time according to my clock, she ignored my comment and continued to complain about the traffic.
“But, Patsy was angry, appalled and embarrassed.”
Penny told me she had called because some of her relatives, specifically her sister, Patsy, was upset at her for sending out stories about their relatives from the research she had been doing.
When I asked her to be more specific, she said, as her eyes flushed themselves,
“Ken, I discovered one of our ancestors was put in jail for bootlegging early in the last century. His name was Bert, so I call him ‘Bert The Bootlegger.’ I thought it was kind of interesting, even amusing. But, Patsy was angry, appalled and embarrassed. She wrote me this long, nasty email telling me to “stop digging up the dirt on our family and spreading it around everywhere.”
I asked her, “Penny, how did you cope with her comments?”
“I wrote her back telling her it was no big deal…that everyone takes a nip now and then, and everyone needs to make a living…stuff like that.” she replied.
“And how did she respond?”
“Ken, she started ranting about the evils of alcohol and all the addicted people she knew and how much pain alcoholism had caused our family, and on and on and on!” Penny said reaching for a tissue to wipe her eyes.
“I’ve always thought we learned them from our parents…”
“Sounds like you really felt hurt by her response, Penny?”
“Yes…yes I did!”
“Is it safe for me to assume you have been thinking,that because Patsy is your sister, you share many of the same values and perspectives about your family, life in general and the past in particular?” I asked.
“Well…she is my only sister and my only sibling! And, we have always been close.”
“Do you know where your values come from, Penny?”
“I’ve always thought we learned them from our parents and some at school, perhaps.”
“Actually, they’re just your collected learnings from your past experiences in life, not just at home and school, but from every personal experience.”
“Well, growing up together in the same family should have left us with similar values, right?”
“In my experience…not necessarily at all! Same family but unique perceptions of it and so unique personal values.” I replied.
“Our siblings. They resemble us just enough to make all their differences confusing, and no matter what we choose to make of this, we are cast in relation to them our whole lives long.” – Susan Scarf Merrell, author
“…Phillip got involved with drugs last year…”
“That must be why we like different TV shows, then. I just love the Comedy Channel but, she thinks it’s stupid. She loves the police and legal dramas which I find repetitive and very boring…you know, good guys and gals catch bad guys and gals.”
“That’s a good example. And, you’ve already noticed Patsy’s distinct perceptions of your ancestors, right?”
“Yeah…I’m starting to get the idea. But, why would she get so upset about a bootlegger in our family history? Does that mean she has had different experiences than me about illegal booze…or maybe alcohol in general?” she wondered out loud.
“Tell me more about Patsy. Does she have a family of her own? What does she do for a living?” I asked, wondering why an ancestral rum runner would upset her so much.
Penny paused briefly before responding.
“Patsy’s a year younger than me and was married for a number of years to Patrick, a bricklayer. She’s a nurse and they have two kids, my only niece and nephew, Phoebe and Phillip. Patsy ended the marriage about two years ago and now they’re co-parenting their two teens.”
“What kind of challenges has Patsy been having with her life lately?” I asked, wondering what might increase her sensitivity to alcohol…if that was indeed what was going on here.
Penny hesitated only briefly before she said,
“They’ve had the usual co-parenting teenager challenges of two homes, two sets of rules, curfews, dating, grades, etc. But as you raise that spectre I’m reminded that Phillip got involved with drugs last year…actually soon after his parents split up.”
Then she added, “It was pretty hairy for a few months, but he got help for his cocaine addiction and they seemed to have worked it out because things have settled down since.”
“We are not only our brother’s keeper; in countless large and small ways, we are our brother’s maker.” – Bonaro Overstreet, author
“Showing disrespect is one of the fastest ways to push someone away…”
“I’m wondering if Patsy’s experiences with her son’s drug addiction triggered her response to ‘Bert The Bootlegger.’ Could they be connected in her mind since both cocaine and alcohol are viewed as addictive by many people?” I asked.
“Well, maybe so because she did say, in one of her rants, she wondered how many families ‘Bert The Bootlegger’ had destroyed.”
“So, you have some choices to make then, eh?” I asked.
“Choices…what choices, Ken?” Penny asked, not sure where I was going with this.
“Let me summarize briefly what we have uncovered. First, you and Patsy have different values even though you grew up in the same family. Second, you and Patsy have different perspectives on your ancestors and on alcohol. With me so far?” I asked.
“I think so!” Patsy said with a confused look on her face.
“You don’t need to share, or even like, Patsy’s values about your ancestors or alcohol to maintain your relationship with her. But, you will need to decide to show respect for her right to have those values. Showing disrespect is one of the fastest ways to push someone away from you.” I offered.
“Our siblings push buttons that cast us in roles we felt sure we had let go of long ago – the baby, the peacekeeper, the caretaker, the avoider…. It doesn’t seem to matter how much time has elapsed or how far we’ve traveled.” – Jane Mersky Leder, author
“…there is no free lunch in any aspect of your life.”
“Yeah…I get that! But, don’t I deserve to have my values respected as well?” she said with a questioning look to her face.
“Yes! Of course! But, to have a set of values will mean you will have to pay for them, daily…there is no free lunch in any aspect of your life. Do you understand what that means, Penny?”
“I’m not sure!” she said, telling me she didn’t.
“What we value from our past, we see of as good and pleasurable…like your value for genealogy. But, in nature nothing is only good or bad…in nature, everything is good and bad or, if you prefer, neither good nor bad. For example, there are no weeds in nature. It takes a human with a value system (e.g. ’I don’t like that white dandelion on my green lawn.’) to label it a weed and tear it out. But, it is actually a perfectly positioned plant in a perfectly balanced natural self sustaining system that is billions of years old. Are you with me, Penny?”
“Yes, that makes sense!” she replied, a hint of awareness surfacing.
“To have a value system always requires a counterbalancing cost to you so you learn to appreciate it…otherwise you could take it for granted. It’s like nature expects us to appreciate the duality of all parts of our life since duality is one of its fundamental laws.”
“Without her and her sickness, I would not be here. And without me being a perfect match for my sister, she would not be here as well. – Marissa Ayala, author
“If there is no regret, then, there is no mistake for you.”
“Are you saying my value system is like some kind of learning tool that helps me in some way?” Penny asked.
“I think that’s exactly what it is, Penny…just as you said…a learning tool…to help prepare us for our future in some way.”
“That means then my value for genealogy which I really enjoy doing has to cost me as well. So, my conflict with Patsy is one cost. Are there others?”
“The duality law says it must be a perfect balance within you. So, the perceived pleasure you get from genealogy must be counterbalanced by the pain you perceive. So, only you can determine that. When you think about how hurt you felt over her criticism of you, is it counterbalanced by the satisfaction you receive in studying your family’s genealogy?” I asked her.
Penny paused again, but only briefly.
“What I know for sure is I don’t regret my value in genealogy, so I really don’t regret sharing what I learn with my family. Lots of my other relatives have thanked me for what I sent them.”
“If there is no regret, then, there is no mistake for you. This indicates you have found the duality of your perception of that moment of hurt in time. So, why did you need to have this experience with Patsy? What did you learn that is useful for your future, Penny?”
“Siblings are the people we practice on, the people who teach us about fairness and cooperation and kindness and caring, quite often the hard way.”- Pamela Dugdale, author
“…this duality process… helps to build your self esteem and self confidence?”
“I guess several things. No one has my values, not even my own sister. And, if I have a value which gives me pleasure, it will also give me an equal amount of pain. And, noticing both the pleasure and the pain helps me learn to appreciate things I didn’t before.”
“Would you give me an example, Penny?”
“My sister for one! She doesn’t have to be like me for me to care about her. She’s my sister regardless. And, it also reminds me to appreciate myself more…because I have a right to value whatever I choose, regardless of what others think. So, if tomorrow I decide I value being the ‘tiddlywinks’ world champion, then I have the right to go for it…it empowers me to appreciate me…I like that…a lot!”
“Can you see now, how Patsy challenging your value of genealogy gave you the opportunity to learn to clarify and support yourself in who you are? And can you see how this duality process, which will occur repeatedly throughout your life, helps to build your self esteem and self confidence?” I asked Penny to see if she had cemented the learning.
“Yes, I see that now! And, that means she’s the right sister for me because she does both, doesn’t she? Supports and challenges me equally, eh?”
“Exactly! Patsy loves you Penny!” I said.
“Yeah! I got it now, Ken! Thank you!
“Sibling relationships …outlast marriages, survive the death of parents, resurface after quarrels that would sink any friendship. They flourish in a thousand incarnations of closeness and distance, warmth, loyalty and distrust.” – Erica E. Goode, author
Until Next time…
Now you know sibling rivalry is a form of love. It is your brother or sister supporting you half the time and challenging you the other half of the time, so you can learn what you need for your future…it is called loving you. It is also what your parents do for you. So if you can’t find the loving moment in each of your good and bad memories, find someone to help you figure it out. It has to be there because it is one of nature’s most basic laws of learning.
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Namaste, (I salute the grandly organized design of the universe, manifested in you!)
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