Learning to Live as Family

for the week of July 10, 2000
by Rubel Shelly

General Colin Powell used to tell a story on the speech circuit. A reporter from an American television network was interviewing a young African-American soldier in a tank platoon on the eve of battle in Operation Desert Storm. "How do you think the battle will go?" the newsman asked. "Are you afraid?"

"We'll do okay. We're well-trained. And I'm not afraid," answered the GI. Then he gestured in the direction of his buddies in uniform who were standing nearby. "I'm not afraid because I'm with my family."

"Tell him again," the soldiers shouted. "He didn't hear you." So the young man repeated, "This is my family, and we'll take care of each other."

Powell says there is something about that story that touches him. He says it always resonated with audiences whenever he told it. In his book My American Journey, he writes about the story and says: "It is a metaphor for what we have to do as a nation. We have to start thinking of America as a family. We have to stop screeching at each other, stop hurting each other, and instead start caring for, sacrificing for, and sharing with each other. . . . We cannot move forward if cynics and critics swoop down and pick apart anything that goes wrong to a point where we lose sight of what is right, decent, and uniquely good about America."

In its narrowest sense, family refers to those people with whom you share DNA. Telltale signs of your closest biological ties might be such things as large ears, dimples, or hairline. But most of us speak of family at the more abstract level the soldier had in mind as well an athletic team, a club, a company, a political party, the citizens of a city, state, or country, the members of our church.

It isn't biology alone that defines the circle of those we love or the people with whom we share daily routines. We define ourselves positively by choosing to protect the welfare and interests of others. We diminish ourselves when we stoop to what Gen. Powell called "screeching at" and "hurting" one another.

Take a minute to look around you now. See kin and country, team and club, company and church. Then determine anew to honor your place in "the family."

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