Sunday, June 10, 2012

It would be so nice if you weren't here

As the summer bears down on us, the anticipation of holidays and family gatherings is not far behind. A reader from Southern California observes that while she looks forward to the joy a family holiday can bring, she also approaches each with some trepidation. "If families get along great, it's all wonderful," she writes.

But, she asks, what if the family doesn't all get along? "What if a Hatfield-McCoy type feud lingers on?"

Even worse, she writes, is when everyone in her household hates one family member so much they want to cut him out of any holiday gatherings in her home.

"How do you really get rid of that person when you grew up with him and you still have deep memories of the good times in the past and the current situation breaks you up inside?" she asks. "It tears your soul and you know that taking that person out of your life holds consequences. Then again, you also know that it will be better to exclude him because life with your current family means more to you than anything."

She aaks: "What do you do in that situation? Someone out there must be going through a similar situation and feeling the same thing."

The reader recognizes that this relative is not perfect. He likes attention and speaks louder than he should. He doesn't take no for an answer. "Above all else, he's confronted me whenever I have asked him to leave."

In the past, the reader has tried before to eliminate the relative from events and, she writes, it made her "a different person inside."

"Is it ethical for people to ask to eliminate a family member from gatherings just because everyone doesn't get along with him?"

There is nothing unethical about my reader's family members asking that someone not be invited to gatherings because of his past behavior. But if my reader is the person who takes responsibility for organizing and planning family events, there is nothing unethical about her deciding to invite the fellow anyway.

Her challenge is to figure out how to weigh the desires of her immediate family to avoid having contact with someone they deem unpleasant against her own desire to be as inclusive as she can when it comes to family gatherings.

She may decide it sets an uncomfortable precedent to single out family members for exclusion. Or she may be concerned that it sends a message of intolerance she doesn't want to convey. If these are true, then she's likely to want to keep inviting him, making it clear why to those requesting his absence.

But if she decides that he is simply so disruptive and uncontrollable at events that any hope of a joyful event is lost, then she's not obligated to invite him.

Ultimately, the choice is hers. Given that excluding him in the past has torn her up inside, it would seem the best right thing is to continue to invite him but to be clear with her family members why. They, in turn, should respect her decision.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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(c) 2012 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by Tribune MediaServices, Inc.

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