By Jerry Witkovsky (adapted from his book, The Grandest Love: Inspiring the Grandparent Grandchild Connection)
Grandparents often ask me, “How will I be remembered?” They know that they can leave valuables, but things can be lost, discarded or no longer considered valuable. A legacy of values, however, can guide grandchildren in their daily life, school, friendship, family relationships. A value such as kindness becomes integrated into the being of the grandchild’s personality. It can be forever and it can be shared and taught to other members of the family and friends. It is part of the Teaching-and-Learning culture of the family, and the grandchild’s world outside of the family.
Interestingly, delving into Values often helps people to discover unexpected areas of commonality, notwithstanding what may appear to be striking differences of opinion. Some families, for example, are very much split along political or ideological lines. There’s nothing wrong with healthy disagreement and debate, of course – it’s all part of a vibrant Teaching-and-Learning culture. But if, for example, social justice emerges as a strong core value for all or most family members, there are ways to share and live this that are decidedly nonpartisan. Families across the political spectrum, or with different religious beliefs or practices, can volunteer together in a soup kitchen or community renewal project, and share articles or books that inspire them.
Shared Interests vs Values
It may be tempting, initially, to try and define your family ethos by zeroing in on shared interests, or things that everyone likes to do together for fun. And, admittedly, focusing on the fun things first can provide an opening for the deeper values conversation. For example, a family where many members enjoy swimming may find that they share an affinity for environmental issues; or a family that enjoys playing chess may be interested in strategy and how that informs politics and democracy. Families who have fun cooking, at a minimum may boast better treats at their meetings, but may also find an underlying concern for food equity or supporting locally owned businesses.
But interests, hobbies and activities, for a host of reasons, may wax and wane through the years. Core values, however, tend to endure – and they are frequently the foundation for our lasting passions and enthusiasms. A family with a core value of “outdoor adventures and fitness,” for example, may relish taking ski trips together each winter. But what happens during years when money is tight, or when a good portion of the family’s members are either too old or too young to participate? Everyone can still have fun together, and fulfill the very same core value, by going (or watching!) sledding or ice-skating in a local park.
By exploring and coming to terms with our family’s areas of commonality and separateness, we teach the youngest generation how people of different beliefs respect each other, value each other’s contributions, and manage to get along in the world.
Values in Action: Contribution & Generosity
My family members and I are very conscious that we are privileged to be able to share the things we do. This awareness is part of our shared Family Vision that values “bettering the lives of others.” Each of us prioritizes volunteerism in our various communities, and this has emerged as a powerful topic of Teaching-and-Learning whenever we get together. Ellen, my daughter, currently serves as president of her synagogue, an activity to which she devotes a great deal of time, effort and textual study. We have all benefited from her teaching us about this major undertaking; she benefits from our questions and insights.
Even the younger grandkids understand that giving back is a central component of how we see our family. From a very early age, they participated with their parents in community clean-ups and the like, and have learned to set aside a portion of their money for charity.
Rebecca’s Story: The Value of Adventure in Action
Values discussions may feel lofty, but the application of the spirit of the value can fit into a family’s everyday lexicon. When Rebecca introduced the conversation around values with her intermediate family, both adventure and multiculturalism rose to the top as important.
At first Rebecca was discouraged; thinking the only way to realize this value was to have lots of money to travel internationally. Instead, she broke it into baby steps, and she and her family came up with a fun way to try new restaurants, new foods, and to learn about new cultures.
First, they agreed that every time they went out to eat as a family, they would try a new restaurant. Second, they made picking the restaurant a lesson in geography. A la “pin the tail on the donkey” each family member would take a turn wearing the blindfold and be given a piece of tape to post on the big, laminated map that hung on the wall. Take away any markers that ended up in the middle of an ocean, and the resulting countries would give them choices as to where to eat. As a result they have tried “fast food” from Pakistan, traditional dishes from Sri Lanka, and even met the Finance Minister of Kyrgyzstan who happened to be visiting and dining at the same restaurant on one of their outings.
Leave Your Campsite Better than you Found it.
I’m not saying that this is an easy, clean, one-time process. But I do say always leave your campsite better than you found it; leave your school better than you found it, and leave your neighborhood and community better than you found it.
It is within your power to leave your family with greater meaning, and the world a better place, because your family was in it. The discussion around values is a step to making that happen.