At the heart of being persons together is the experience of family. We often hear it said that ‘blood is thicker than water’. This suggests that our identity and ultimate loyalties tend towards familial relationships. Who we are is highly influenced by the family we are a born into whether for good or ill. Indeed, so much of what we become derives from experiences in infancy, which is usually where families are at their most influential. At their best, family ties provide the safety, comfort and natural bonds of loyalty and affection that offer the person a sense of wellbeing and meaning.
Family dynamics can of course be as damaging as they can be supportive. The worst abuses in personal relationships occur within the family. In addition, the tights bonds of family can become a divisive experience that denudes community life through feuds between competing families or concerted efforts to enrich a single family through the abuse or corruption of others.
We must bear in mind that the expression and experience of family is flexible and varied. In many African cultures, the notion of blood within the family is less important than the mutual responsibilities between those that emerge into the ‘extended family’. The evolution of family life in liberal societies has also invited new forms of belonging.
Just as there can be ‘bad blood’ within families, so perhaps can we find ‘the water of life’ in other forms of relationship. Whether through blood or water, we seek health and happiness from our most intimate relationships.