It all starts at home

2013-08-12 00:00

THE bond between people and development is an obvious one. However, the principles of collaborative work dominate most aspects of human endeavours. This puts people at the core of development.

Expressions such as team work, collective responsibility and solidarity are common utterances for both private and public initiatives. They emphasise systematic employment of collective strengths that promise maximum development outputs.

But too often the character and the role of a family unit in the development mix is shadowed by economic and infrastructure development priorities. This article argues that parenting should be elevated as one of the main priorities of all development endeavours. It reminds us that much social instability can be traced from negative patterns of interpersonal behaviours and bitter human relations. Dysfunctional families are no exception. It concludes that such experiences are incompatible with development.

Most families behave as if they don’t experience interpersonal conflict and emotional stresses. Some opt to ignore them. And some go all the way to keep them behind closed doors. However, these may consequently mirror themselves outside the family environment.

In-laws and step-children are mostly blamed for instigating family conflicts. We cannot ignore fear perpetuated by hard-core stereotypes of many forms. The institution of marriage is under attack. Couples eat each other alive. Children watch these “movies” every day.

The point here is that the psychological impact of these family instabilities transform into the most notorious and distructive adversaries of social harmony. But first, what do we mean by a dysfunctional family? Basically, a family dysfunction can be any chronic condition that interferes with the healthy functioning of a family, that consistently deprives children of suitable environments in which to grow up. But how do such dysfunctions affect national development? Let us try to make the connections.

I want to make two points here. First, it all starts from individual families. Negative parental behaviour alongside irresponsible adult family members reproduce impaired future citizens. When adults erroneously justify forms of violence as discipline intended to correct bad behaviour, they disorientate the children. Frequent belittling criticism and subtle put-downs disguised as humour are common in many families. This tends to poison young minds and can have lasting effects.

In many instances, these adults make rules in the house, but are the first to break them. Rules tend to compete with their selfish gratification. This develops into serious intrapersonal conflict and hypocrisy. The point is that how people behave privately will definitely influence their conduct at work and in other community settings. Employers should be worried about this.

Second are the effects of hypocrisy. Many adults cover up their personal problems. It could be a financial crisis or abusive relationship. Keeping problems a secret is rule number one for many families. Over time, this may worsen. They may eventually become masters of fallacy and deception, and accept their tragic reality as normal.

When this happens many people around them become victims of their imperfections. Their professional competencies gradually deteriorate. Work becomes stressful. Production outputs definitely fall, and, worse, these people start blaming circumstance for their misery. This may turn very ugly in the public service. Poor people and the elderly are treated with disrespect by the people who are supposed to protect them. This is a red flag for corrective action.

The consequences of such behaviour can be very costly to national development. In cases where emotional expression is frequently forbidden and discussion about family problems is denied, children become frustrated and start blaming themselves for their parents’ bad behaviour. They mistrust others and find it difficult to build relationships when they are adults. This is a serious matter for development.

Under such circumstances expectation associated with team work, dialogue and innovation cannot be realised. This is not compatible with the national development agenda.

Some children will accept violence as a solution for resolving problems. For instance, they will accept that double-dealing and cheating are accepted ways of climbing the corporate ladder or running a business. Getting even with their rivals supersedes every­thing. Short-cuts that may violate the rights of others become accepted practice.

Some media, especially violent movies, tend to exacerbate this tragedy. Then we expect miracles to happen to our children. We expect them to develop feelings of trust, commitment and responsibility in their adult lives. How can this miracle happen when their families and neighbourhoods are breeding dishonesty, betrayal and fear — that in many instances end in ugly divorces and death?

But it is not all bad. Some adults have survived dysfunctional relations and have developed empathy for others. And more importantly, they are resilient in stressful environments and very adaptive to change. They are very observant, analytical and patient.

It is believed that such people are achievement- and result-orientated. The flip side may be that these people believe in self-sufficiency as a way of mitigating or minimising interpersonal risk.

This reality demands serious reconfiguration of the national development package. Communities are constituted by families. Appropriate relationship guarantees a family unit. And a family remains the only source that guarantees production in the future. This requires serious dialogue and investments in social services that should aid families to overcome challenges that threaten the future generation with imperfect citizens.

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