Engineering Thinking requires that we challenge all assumptions, particularly those that seem to be obviously true. As mentioned before, such challenges may propel us toward conclusions that may, at first glance, seem weird, wacky, or nutty. Nonetheless, we must learn to go where the analysis takes us, so here we go:
In the area of personal relationships, an assumption that is rarely challenged is the one that says, loud and clear, “family comes first.”
Family Comes First: True or False?
The assumption behind “family comes first” is that we have a higher obligation to family members than we do to other folks. This would appear to be reasonable for nuclear parent-child families, where parents have a moral obligation to properly raise their children.
But what about more distant family connections, with cousins, aunts, uncles, and in-laws involved, or cases where the children are grown? Are there any instances where expending the time and effort on family matters may not be morally superior than spending time with others? Here are a few scenarios to ponder:
1. Your only child has grown, who unfortunately has not turned out to be a very pleasant person. You had an evening planned to go out with some rock-solid “non-family” friends you’ve known for twenty years. Your child suddenly drops by with a standard emergency. Should you cancel your outing with your friends?
2. Your family’s gatherings are full of strife, with excessive alcohol, bickering, and tension. Do you feel obligated to attend these family gatherings on every holiday?
3. Like many families, yours has become split by divorce. Do holiday gatherings become an ordeal where some relatives try to use guilt to force you into eliminating or minimizing the time spent with the other side of the family?
If one starts with the premise that true friends — those who appreciate you and consistently treat you with respect — are the definition of true family, you will find clear answers to the questions posed above.