Are You as Considerate of Your Family as You Are of Others?
“GLAD you were able to make it,” said the host to one of his guests. Replied the guest: “Oh, when I say I’m coming, I COME!” Yes, he prided himself on being a man of his word. But was he such a man of his word to his family? Well—not always.
There is a German proverb, Haus Bengel und Strassen Engel, which means, ‘At home an ill-mannered boor but on the street an angel.’ That proverb points up a common human failing. For example, at the end of a social evening a husband may be eager to help some young single woman with her coat, but may let his wife put on her own coat. Apparently the pretty single woman stimulated the husband’s romantic interest so that he became the courteous gentleman. But how much more good he could do by being solicitous and romantically courteous to his own wife! That would be loving his wife as he loves himself, which is what a husband should do.—Eph. 5:33.
To the point is the saying that “charity begins at home,” that is, it should begin at home. Not in the matter of giving money necessarily, but in being helpful to one another. Are we not quick to help out when a stranger asks for directions or for some other information? So should we not likewise be quick to help out in our homes, in fact, even more ready to do so? Yet how often one member of the family struggles with burdens while others of the family seem to be blind as to their opportunities to be of help. Are there a number of children to get ready before a certain hour? Are there a lot of dishes to be washed? Especially should husbands of “working wives” recognize that the old notions of what is a man’s sphere of work and what is a woman’s sphere need to be revised if wives are not to be unduly burdened.
Charity also begins at home when it comes to putting up with others’ weaknesses and shortcomings. One may tend to make allowances for outside friends and acquaintances, such as those with whom one happens to be working. Should we not be even more ready and willing to put up with the shortcomings and weaknesses of our own families? In some cases it may be a mistaken sense of duty and love that causes some wives or husbands to be unduly critical of their mates.
Far more important is it that we build one another up by giving moral support, overlooking slight inaccuracies or weaknesses, than that everything be exactly perfect or be required to measure up to what we think it ought to be. Besides, the one prone to correct another may well be the one that is mistaken. Of course, one that is close to another can be helpful in aiding that one to avoid mistakes, but the role of being your mate’s “severest critic” can be overdone.
Yes, the considerate thing to do is to make allowances for another’s weaknesses. Remember, they are often due to heredity or environment, which exert a powerful influence in molding personality. And such is also the wise course, for to the extent that we are merciful with others, others will most likely be merciful with us, even as Jesus Christ on one occasion noted: “With the measure that you are measuring out [to others], they will measure out to you in return.” (Luke 6:38) As one American woman in the public limelight said in arguing against the stand taken by some in the women’s liberation movement: “I treat my husband like a king and he treats me like a queen.”
The saying of the world that “familiarity breeds contempt” should not apply to our relations with members of our own family. Just the opposite should be the case. Familiarity should “breed” loyalty and respect because of our having learned to know, understand and appreciate one another better. It is natural for people who have been given proper training at home during youth to treat outsiders or strangers with a measure of respect. And that is as it should be, for does not the Bible say, “Honor men of all sorts”? “All sorts” would include members of our own families, would it not? (1 Pet. 2:17) By showing respect to one another, individual members of a family strengthen one another’s personality, putting each one in a better position to be helpful to the others. Respect can be shown by addressing others with due regard for who they are and according to their feelings, both in what is said and how it is said.
Sometimes a member of a family feels free to be blunt, severe or critical of others in the family although he would not think of treating outsiders this way. But, in doing so, is he not betraying a lack of empathy? There is a great difference, for example, between the way we feel when we ourselves discover we have made a mistake, and are able to correct it, and the way we feel when another calls a mistake to our attention and asks us to correct it. Empathy will help us to appreciate that difference.
Often, however, our failure to treat our own families as we treat outsiders is due to mere thoughtlessness. Especially when it comes to saying things that had better been left unsaid. With outsiders we are inclined to be more careful. But with our own families also it is well always to think before we speak. A handy rule is to ask: “Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary?” Give thought, also, to the way you say a thing. The opposite of thoughtlessness is showing consideration. Do so even in little things, for it has well been said, “Little things mean a lot.” Consideration is shown by prefacing a request with “Please,” and saying “Thanks!” and meaning it whenever receiving a favor no matter how small.
Truly many are the reasons for us to be helpful, charitable, respectful and considerate in dealing with those outside our families. There is a moral satisfaction in manifesting these characteristics, it makes for better relations, it helps us to be well thought of and may even benefit us in a material way. But do we not stand to benefit in these various ways also if we manifest those characteristics to those of our own families? Indeed we do, and even more so. Besides, in doing so we might be said to be ‘laying up treasures’ that can be drawn upon when we are in need. And what a comfort that can prove to be!