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Family Values

April 1, 2001

Nepal news


Last week I wrote of the importance for communities to unite together in the common cause to improve living conditions for all. Of course exactly the same principal is true within our own families. In the same way that local communities are like atoms within the National Molecule, so too are all the members of our family essential elements in the most fundamental molecule of our lives. Unless our personal family is unified and working together in harmony, nothing that we achieve in life can have any real value. However wealthy we may become, however much land or property we may own, life is completely meaningless without a loving family around us. It is both the source and the reason for our existence.

And yet our leaders do nothing to strengthen the family. In every nation across the world the traditional family system is under threat as our leaders and politicians concentrate mainly on developing the economy. By providing more employment and money into the system they claim to be improving the lives of ordinary citizens. But a terrible reality has occurred to millions of people in the developed world where this philosophy is most advanced. As their society becomes ever more obsessed with wealth, the strength of their family bonds has become ever weaker. Money has become the main status symbol of modern life in the West. The value of a successful marriage and a loving family has been relegated to second place at best. Today most marriages fail and most children are living with single parents. Tomorrow it is doubtful that people in the West will get married at all.

But the family unit is the building block of society. Its character is reflected in the city streets and the rural villages around us. A healthy family culture is shown by the unity of people in their neighbourhoods and their ability to work together for the common good. But when families are weak there is always more selfishness, more crime and less happiness. That has been the sad experience of the West and we must do everything we can to prevent that decay in Nepal. The main question for us all must therefore be how to make our own families as strong and as unified as possible at a time when Western culture is influencing our society.

Times are changing very quickly. I think that is the most important element to consider. We cannot remain static in our approach to family life because the whole world is undergoing a revolution bigger than mankind has ever experienced before. New technology has triggered massive social, political and economic changes that will gradually sweep across the world. They can be seen today in the cities of Nepal and some areas like Thamel have many Western social problems already. So we must all adapt to the reality of the modern age and allow some changes in our homes.

Of course there are some reasonably simple measures that can strengthen our families. The tradition of dividing the land between every son cannot be successful when the resulting plots become so small that no family could exist from them. Today it may be better to give the land to the son who wants it most and a longer education to his brothers who stand aside for him. Instead of putting land or money aside for your daughter's dowry, today it might be better to give her the choice between that and a longer education. For how we spend our resources will always reflect on the future of our lives. An expensive wedding party with lavish gifts of gold and silk may provide much joy for a day but the welfare of a lifetime is always more important.

We must also pass our practical skills to our children because academic education alone is not enough to help them in marriage or when times are hard. Son and daughter alike must learn to manage all the family tasks from cooking and sewing to working in the fields or running the shop. The marriages of tomorrow will be very different from today and if we prepare our children for the inevitable equality of women in Nepal our families will surely be the stronger.

But there is still the most important element that may strengthen your family. When I first came to Nepal more than twenty years ago a particular term caught my attention. 'DajuBhaaiDidiBahini' does not exist in Western culture. Christian and Jewish families are strictly limited to blood relatives and their married partners. But the idea of accepting a close friend as a family member was an inspiration to me. It was an ancient tradition that had long before died in the West but here in Nepal such ideas are still accepted. Whilst my own father refused to accept Jayaram as his grandson simply because he was adopted and coloured, my family in Nepal readily accepted a girl from another caste as a sister and me as brother.

That is the spirit of the nation that will best protect you from the ills of modern life. To take a friend into your home as your own kin and work together for the health and happiness of those around you is perhaps the greatest wall of strength that you can give your family. It should not matter if that friend is male or female, young or old or even from another caste. The important element that will bind you together is the notion of accepting each other as brother or sister in the common struggle to improve your lives. The more hands and heads that work together, the greater the industry and happiness that results. If everyone is open, fair and honest with each other such extended families can be the most successful in any society. They are built upon a common unity that is the greatest gift we can pass to our children for how we raise them will determine the society they will eventually create.

With my best wishes to you all,