Monthly Archives: June 2014

Secret Messages and a Possible Future

“No matter how far we come, our parents are always in us.”
Brad Meltzer

super-childOne day when your children are almost adults one of them will say something aloud that will knock you off your chair. He will remember something that you said, something that you didn’t even remember at the time saying, it was so quick and sudden and even sharp. But it was remembered. You will be amazed that he even heard much less remembered and can now recite those words.

“We define our identity always in dialogue with, sometimes in struggle against, the things our significant others want to see in us. Even after we outgrow some of these others—our parents, for instance—and they disappear from our lives, the conversation with them continues within us as long as we live.”   – Charles Taylor

Your whole lives together you are communicating messages to your children. So much of that communication seems secret because (1) you don’t think anyone is listening (2) it didn’t seem that important at the time, and (3) maybe you said it so often that it became automatic. When your children grow up, those secret messages will often come to light. They will rise from the dead and you will see that they were either nourishing the soul or haunting the emerging self.

Social Psychology introduces to us the term Possible Selves. We think about our future self and either anticipate with optimism all that is possible OR we imagine a negative potential with a pessimistic future outlook. What kind of a person do you want to be next week, next year, in ten years? These days, how limitless/limited are all your possibilities?

When we build our future self we use all sorts of materials to put it together – including those secret messages our parents gave us.

  • If you didn’t get enough positive and inspiring secret messages (and deliberate parenting!) when you were growing up, research tells us that you should think about those experiences as a part of your distant past. Instead focus on the self you are now creating and the successes you have more recently experienced. This helps your autobiographical memory work for you rather than against you.
  • If you are a parent, relative or adult friend, think about what you are communicating in all the little words, gestures and expressions you pass on to the children in your life. Everyone is building a self. It’s a group project.

“Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, “Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody.” … [My dark side says,] I am no good… I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved.” Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”      – Henri Nouwen

We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. – I John 3:16

We All Need Somebody To Love


“Have you noticed that only in time of illness or disaster or death are people real?” – Walker Percey

Usually it’s when the bottom falls out that we discover what we’re made of.

  • Remember when your car was in the shop and your friend from work gave you a ride – for a week?
  • What about when your dad was in the hospital and your neighbor took care of your kids after school?
  • Two years ago when your friend from church was going through cancer treatments and you signed up to take meals over to her house.
  • When the hurricane hit and all those people were displaced and needed so much help getting back on their feet.

We also realize who we can count on as the going keeps getting tougher and rougher. For most of us, our families are the deep reservoir (usually taken for granted) that we  can depend upon when a disaster hits. What’s troubling is that for a growing number of Americans family is becoming a weakened resource as relationships fracture and bonds become more and more temporary.

Anthropologists use the term “Fictive Kinship” to describe those members of your family who aren’t related by marriage or biology. They are your Godparents, your best friends, your friends for life, that guy who’s just like a brother…

“One loyal friend is worth ten thousand relatives.”  – Euripides

Many of us have these “fictive kin” in our families. We probably don’t have enough. Less than 20% of families in our country today are composed of a married couple with children. What we once called “family” is changing for all kinds of reasons.

What never changes is the deep need every one of us has for connections with others and the difficult circumstances that we will face during the course of our lives. Getting through life works better when you’ve got a team at your back.

“Having someone wonder where you are when you don’t come home at night is a very old human need. ”   – Margaret Mead

As our collective marital and biological ties to people begin to dwindle, we need to take a good hard look at the consequences. While we’re doing that, we need to compensate by make deep and abiding connections with others. People with friends are healthier, make more money and live longer. It’s even been suggested that it’s a toss up about which you should do to insure a healthier and longer life, give up smoking or make more friends.

When we face disasters in our life we need people to help us with all the little things as well as the great big ones. Everything is important. When the bottom falls out it is these “kinfolk” who come out of the woodwork and save the day.

“A friend is one who walks in when others walk out.”  – Walter Winchell

There isn’t a sign up sheet at Starbucks to get a set of “fictive kin” to add to your  family. What you need to do is start helping a friend of yours. Start building stronger bonds by bridging the gaps of time, distance and indifference. We all follow the “norm of reciprocity” to some degree – when you scratch my back, I feel obligated scratch yours. Those kinds of obligations are the building blocks of civilization. We don’t get by asking, we get by giving. Who needs you today? Start giving a little bit of yourself. A little more today than yesterday. One day soon you too will need someone.