Some Australia Day Family Memories

Australia Day Quote: “Twenty-three million of us have found unity in our diversity; respect in our differences and have built a modern nation.”

We would probably all agree that this statement stands or falls on individual citizens and the education of the next generations.  Members of the family were talking about how to best re-enforce children against drugs, alcohol abuse, and unacceptable behaviours. Family meals and table talk have been proved to be crucial to children imbibing the parent’s values.  They gain their own values through such dialogue and listening in this safe environment.

Last month’s family newsletter gave an overview of an article on research into the value of nurturing gratitude in children .. Zephanie pointed out that to teach children gratitude is quite a difficult thing to do.  In the book “Teaching Children to Pray”, Morwood suggests a new, better way of thinking of prayer for children as meaningful dialogue.  The formal ‘grace’ of the past had value in that it expressed gratitude for food.  A ritual replacing grace, he suggests, could be for the family to spend a couple of minutes recounting what each family member is grateful for.  We become what we think about most.

Wendell, a sociologist, noted that happy table time does not occur easily.  Gathering around a table is when offense so easily happens.  Meals can become times  to vent frustrations over differences or perceived failures.  Weston was saying that there needs to be more emphasis in families today on table etiquette, from eating procedures to socializing.  Families that take the effort to put table rules in place and set the ritual to foster pleasant dialogue have created a great space for nurturing feelings of love and value.

Mandela said it fascinated him how humans by nature take offense over difference. He understood that a meal offered the best opportunity to engage the other in a more mature way of relating, providing a place to listen both to those you agree with and those you don’t.

On Christmas day John reminded us that when Mandela was freed from prison, he sent out invitations to his enemies to join him for dinners.  Some of the first people he invited were those who had hurt him most, such as his prosecutor at the trial that sent him to prison.  This prosecutor was a Jew, who during Mandela’s trial, called for the death penalty.  John said Mandela fussed over him, personally supervising a delightful meal and making sure it was completely kosher.  The next invitations went to his jailers who he treated as honoured meal guests.  When Mandela invited the white state police that had stalked and tried to ambush him, his second in charge objected, “You can’t do this, what are you thinking?  Those are your potential murderers – you must be mad.”  Mandela replied shaking his finger in the objectors face, “This act is especially to teach you the meaning of unconditional forgiveness. This is the first lesson you must learn if you are going to be of any use at all.  I’m inviting these police to be my personal body guards.”  How families and the whole human society would change if we all had such generosity of spirit?  Unconditional acceptance is the greatest weapon humans have for changing negative behavior. This is now a message coming from voices all around the world.  This spirit brings about unexpected change which is good for the nation and exceptionally beneficial for the family.

Mandela further noted that humans display great maturity when they can permit and enjoy the freedom of the other in spite of all the annoying differences.  Mandela understood that the capacity to permit and engage the freedom of the other is exceptional, rather than common.  He realized that humans have strong natural drives to control, to manipulate, and change the other, and not permit the freedom of differences.  Mandela came to his conclusions in jail through his personal insight and reading of many of the best authors past and present.

Gratitude in our own life has been shown to be the primary attitude that enables a person to extend freedom and acceptance without conditions to others.  (See article “Does Being Grateful Lead to Love?” )   There is definite medical evidence of improved health when pleasant dialogue is employed at family meal time, and in many cases, professionals can predict which families will stay together by counting the ratio of expressions of gratitude to the negative expressions.

The Uncles story for the children: When uncle Bob and John and their brothers were little boys on a big rough country farm in Victoria, there was lots of work and a big family to feed.  This meant everyone was very busy and coped as best they could.  Meal times could be rushed and there were no fine table settings.  Holidays were different.  The six brothers and their cousins would visit the aunts and stay for the holidays on a very beautiful property with a grand house built on a hill over a lake near Geelong.  Everything was prim and proper.  The Aunts were bent on making these boys into little gentleman, and each meal was a time to re-enforce table etiquette.  The aunts told them that proper children did not ask, “Please pass the butter or pass the salt.” before asking someone else first if they needed the butter or the salt or anything else on the table.  Bob had to say, “John, would you like the butter, or John may I pass you the butter.”  Then Bob was permitted to say, “John, would you please pass the butter to me.”  Forgetting the rule was the usual at most meals, but  a kick in the shins by the child next to them was a timely reminder.  When a boy received the butter, it was only to be taken from the butter-dish using the proper butter knife that sat beside it on the dish.  The boys were taught to first take some butter with the butter knife, place it on the side of their plates then use their own bread and butter knife for spreading on the bread.  These were great days Bob says.  The food was so good and they had fun learning how to be little gentleman.  But best of all they enjoyed catching their brothers out with a kick under the table.