Family relationships offer lessons in the source of one’s identity and values, in the truth of free choice unfathomable fate, and in the paradoxical connection between change and continuity. The family teaches us about the linkage of love and commitment and their place in a virtuous life. It offers psychological benefits of unconditional acceptance and belonging and intergenerational and multicultural bonds. More practically, it can be a safety network and a means to social productivity. For some the family feels divine in origin and is an access point for the transcendent.
As we move into society we see how love of one’s kin can be widened to love of the family of humanity. Purpose in family roles can be replicated in analogous conduct with our fellow citizens and arguably our entire species. Perhaps we can find purpose in expanding these feelings for our race further to all animals or even all living things. Meanwhile filial piety and respect for our elders can be transformed into respect for institutions and legitimate authority. Following Confucius we can find authentic purpose in being agents for order, harmony, and the advancement of society and the world.
If individual purpose comes down to making a good life for oneself, self-improvement, and the attaining of happiness and meaning, the family offers a template for us to seek those goals for ourselves while facilitating them for others. If Homo sapiens is destined to be a great species it will depend on us expanding that desire beyond our immediate relatives to everyone living and even those not yet born as best as our meager attempts allow. Virtue and purpose intersect again at the level of humanity and Nature from the example of the family.
Next time we begin the exploration of the third form of relationship which integrates externalized purpose – friendship. Join me then.