Progressives who emerge from conservative families (and how one might heal from the heartbreak)

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The most radical revolutionary will become a conservative the day after the revolution

  • Sriram Ananth (sriram.writing@gmail.com)

This is an article on progressives who come from conservative families, and dealing with the inevitable pain, separation, isolation, and judgement that folks who have such life histories often deal with on a regular basis.

I would like to start this article by first laying out the parameters of the term “progressive” here since it’s such a loaded term. But let me first clarify what it’s not. It’s not meant to indicate membership to the big D party or self-identification with the big L in the apparent conservative-liberal divide that many liberals love to think is wider than reality.

I define progressive for this article as someone who is committed to anti-oppression politics, someone who values religious and spiritual diversity as well as secularism (which I tend to see as two sides of the same coin), someone who upholds humanity over nationality, religion , ethnicity etc., someone who understands the possible unearned privileges they have while also aware of the forms of oppression they might face, and someone who is fundamentally tolerant of difference but intolerant of injustice (regardless of the popularity of such stances), essentially someone who wants society and humanity to progress ever further towards greater equality and egalitarianism.

The point is not perfection, but honest, self-reflective intent.

Now, such people, when they emerge from conservative families, often find themselves dealing with the repercussions of that emergence in a variety of ways. In this post I’d like to discuss the various repercussions and possible ways of dealing with them. I’m going to briefly explore 6 points including: (1) being disowned by families, (2) families feeling sad and upset, (3) being constantly judged and harangued by families, (4) feeling like the relationships with relatives is empty and non-existent, (5) finding that relationships of blood are not as strong as they’re made out to be, and, finally (6) often realizing that one has to build one’s own family of loved ones.

I’m going to take up each of those points and discuss ways in which we can liberate ourselves from the inevitable pain that can come from such experiences and how we might heal as we do so. Let’s start with…

(1) Being disowned by families and blood relatives: This is a tough one, but it’s always a good idea to start with a tough one so some of the subsequent ones feel a little less intense. Getting disowned by any part or even all of your family can be a devastating thing. Apart from the injustice of losing out on whatever collective safety nets might be on offer for everyone in the family, you lose out on a community as well (albeit a really messed up one, but still a community nevertheless). It’s most gut-wrenching when children are involved. An example is when young children are prevented from interacting with their cousins because their cousins might have parents who are more bohemian and free-thinking. Another example could be a daughter being disowned by her parents because she married a man from a different religion, and being banished from seeing her baby siblings. Yet another example could be an elder sister preventing a younger sister from seeing the elder sister’s children because the younger sister has more liberated and humanist politics as opposed to being a fundamentalist Christian like the elder sister.

Our world is replete with such examples.

How do we heal?

I suggest that we, first and foremost, give up the idea of such members of our families “coming round” and also give up the idea that it’s at all worth it to wait for them to do so. Life is short. And there are way more people out there who love you for you truly are in all your liberated and loving spirit. More about this is written in the last point, because truth be told, if you’re going to take away one point from this article: it’s that we need to build our own healing, nurturing, and truly gender-liberated families and communities, not based on blood (though there are some blood relatives that are awesome), but based on love.

That is how we heal from being disowned by blood.

By realizing that blood don’t mean shit.

Because, as sure as the sunrise, there will be…

(2) Relatives feeling sad or upset and constantly judging you: This falls under the “not your problem” category of issues, and equally importantly under the “not under your control” category of issues. You cannot control how your family feels about you, nor really should you. It’s up to them to feel how they feel, and it’s up to you to figure out how to deal with it. Please note that I’m only talking about how they feel, not how they act. Unless they’re actively trying to change you or harass you, they actually do have a right to feel however they want to feel, no matter how abhorrent such sensibilities might often be.

As do you. Furthermore, you have the right to neither respond to nor hold space for such feelings should they be harmful to you.

That’s it.

I am amazed at some progressives who emerge from conservative families bending over backwards to accommodate their families’ nonsensical feelings and insecurities that emerge merely because this one member walked a more liberated path. It then breeds resentment because it’s not a balanced, healthy relationship.

Indeed, sometimes the most balanced, healthy relationship you can have with some people is none at all.

Thus the frustrations around such burdensome feelings and sentiments that those conservative relatives heap on you is not so much about that, but actually mourning a loss, which is what it is: a loss. The sooner one accepts that, the better.

Being judged is one thing, but what of…

(3) Being constantly harassed and harangued by families: This is on a whole other playing field compared to the previous two, which essentially follow the same healing path of forging ones own path of love and liberation, and leaving the family behind if they continue to be insular and dogmatic.

What if the family doesn’t let you do that however?

This is much trickier, because it exists along a spectrum of safety – there’s the kind of harassment that merely irritates and there’s the kind of harassment that’s actually dangerous, and there’s a lot that’s in between.

So the first thing that needs to be understood is what kind of harassment are we talking about here? What are your conservative relatives like? Are they the more peaceful kind? Or are they, you know, really out there in wing-nut territory? Please don’t let residual feelings of love blind you either way, just reflect honestly on this. Because it will determine whether you need to follow a similar, but slightly more bad-ass, version of living your life with a mental framework of ignore-with-cynical-humor-and-they-will-eventually-get-the-message-and-fuck-off kind of thing, OR, holy shit, I think I might just have to relocate in order for my own safety, health, and long term happiness.

Point being, take a call only after you have had some serious self-reflection on what kind of harassment is taking place.

One the other end of the spectrum, many progressives who emerge from conservative families…

(4) Feel like the relationships with relatives is empty and non-existent: This often happens in families where there hasn’t been any upheaval per se or any banishment or major fissure, but merely just a drifting apart via a lack of keeping in touch and a lack of anything to bond over.

This is best handled with realistic acceptance, a more healing sense of time, and a broadening of one’s idea of who your family and community truly are. Realistic acceptance that, with some relatives, the relationship is likely to be empty and non-existent with nothing much that can be done about it, unless you have to hurt yourself in order to give life to the relationship, which no one should be doing. Thus it is best left with that realistic acceptance of a non-relationship. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have to hope, we just have to ensure we’re leading full, happy, liberated and loving lives while we hope that things get better with the more shittier relationships we share with some of our relatives. It’s the reason why we need a healing understanding of time, i.e. the knowledge that time truly is a great healer. Especially if we are to believe (like many hunter-gatherer, divine feminine worshiping societies) that our souls transcend time, then we can certainly believe in it’s healing powers; while simultaneously building communities and families of our own with our friends and loved ones – which is explored in further detail as  the last point. Because often we might end up…

(5) Finding that relationships of blood are not as strong as they’re made out to be (even feeling betrayed at times): This can also be devastating because it often shatters some of our happier memories and promises of our families. But, on occasion, apart from being devastating it can also be dangerous. Often conservatism can degenerate quite dangerously to chauvinism, even violent chauvinism.

Such times cannot and should not be handled alone.

Which means that a community, a family of your own, built from your friends and loved ones is a safety net in more ways than one. A community like this protects each other, stands up for one another, and cares for each other, while negotiating problems and conflicts with love. So, I think we all need to get on that organically liberating path of…

(6) Finally realizing that one has to build one’s own family of loved ones: This article really is one point said in a variety of ways (as I’ve mentioned before, I’m quite the marvelous hack as a writer), but that one point is so very, very crucial.

You need friends.

You need community.

You need a family of loved ones.

You just don’t need to rely on blood to get them.

Once we get past the nonsensical myth that blood is all-important when it comes to building a family of loved ones, life becomes a lot better, trust me. The entire world around us opens up as a potential family of loved ones, and our relationships with our blood relatives become much more rich and honest because it’s not relying merely on some common lineage for its maintenance.

For instance, the blood relatives that I keep close to my heart are also among my best friends. There aren’t many. A tiny handful of them in two cities, Bangalore and Toronto. But, as I mentioned earlier, I’m one of the lucky ones when it comes to family. Indeed, I’m constantly reminded how lucky I am and how important it is for me to honor that luck.

Now, I could view my family of loved ones and say that everyone should have what I have by being true to bullshit, conservative family values. It takes less time and is easier to do because it requires no application of heart, mind, or soul other than a mindless adherence to dogma, insularity and ethnocentrism.

Or I can view my family and say that everyone should have what I have by being true to love, liberation, healing, and friendship regardless of blood ties. Much harder to do because our capitalist societies are built to uphold the most economically productive unit of social organization – the nuclear family.

The former option guarantees dogma, insularity and soulless ethnocentrism

The latter option guarantees love, liberation, healing, and solidarity.

Figure out which option works better for you.

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