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Who are we as a family?
By Orson Scott Card September 9, 2010

I first found leadership writer Patrick Lencioni because of the bright yellow cover of his book The 3 Big Questions for a Frantic Family. I had a few minutes in an airport, and so I picked it up, bought it, and began it on that forty-five minute flight.

I got home and finished the book before I went to bed.

Like Lencioni's other books, it consists of a fable -- halfway between fiction and a case study. It's the story of a business consultant named Jude Cousins, and his stay-at-home wife, Theresa.

Their lives are frantic -- their days filled with transportation, their nights with homework and the few desired activities they are able to squeeze in.

One evening, home from a business trip, Jude sees how rushed and tired everyone is, and he says out loud the idea that pops into his mind: "If my clients ran their companies the way we run this family, they'd be out of business."

After the argument, when Theresa finally realizes that Jude is not criticizing her, they settle down to trying to apply to their family the principles of business management that Jude teaches to his clients.

And as I read with fascination, I began applying the same principles to my own family, the family I grew up in, my wife's family -- in fact, every family I know at all well.

And you know what? I think Lencioni is on to some useful points.

First, let me point out one reason I like Lencioni: He takes religion seriously. The terminology is not LDS, but the family in his parable is committed to a "faith life" that includes serious church service, prayer, and religious study.

The book takes only a couple of hours to read; the thought and conversation that ensue will take longer. But I know few families that wouldn't benefit from reading it.

Here, though, I'm only going to deal with one of the questions that he recommends that families ask themselves as they begin to reorder their lives.

"What makes our family unique or different from every other family on the block?"

For Mormons I would change "block" to "ward." In the Mormon Corridor they're pretty much the same thing; everywhere else, what makes us different from everybody else on the block is the fact that we're Mormon!

But we don't really live in cities or neighborhoods -- our village is the ward. So:

"What makes our family unique or different from every other family in the ward?"

We're all busy with Church callings, we center our lives around our faith -- but so does practically everyone else in the ward. We all aspire to pretty much the same list of virtues.

But that's why we're looking for what makes us different. Because what makes our lives frantic is trying to do everything all at once.

Lessons and sports for the kids, in addition to school, homework, field trips, plays; activity night, Sunday meetings, family home evening, seminary if you've got a kid that age; holding down one or two jobs; scripture study, welfare work, home teaching, visiting teaching ...

Oh, wait. The month's already over and we haven't actually spoken to each other yet, except to negotiate who gets to use which car.

What makes your family different from other LDS families? It might be values, a family strategy, a single core purpose. Don't worry about answering "correctly," or trying to find a single answer. My wife and I thought of half a dozen things, including:

During the lifetime of our third child, Charlie Ben, one of the things that set us apart was the fact that keeping him healthy and happy shaped a large portion of our lives: his physical needs, his wheelchair, the difficulty of keeping him comfortable during travel made us different from most families in our ward.

But Charlie is gone now, and while we remember him every day, he no longer shapes our lives as he once did.

We're theatre people. I fell in love with my wife while directing her as Fiona in a ward production of Brigadoon right after my mission. All our kids are wonderful performers who have the drama bug to one degree or another.

I once wrote a biography of an LDS athlete when he was still so young that the book quickly became an account of what made the family he grew up in unique. All the kids were talented at sports, but what made them different from other families was how much they loved to play.

I know another family whose dad is a videogame designer. The whole family lives a game-centered life. Even the children (none yet in school) are as comfortable with computer games as children in other families might be with swimming pools, books, travel, or pets.

Then there's the family that lived abroad so much that everybody is fluently multilingual; another family we know centers their lives around home schooling and a healthy diet; in another household, both parents are lawyers -- and all their legal skills are required to negotiate with their strong-willed children.

I found it fascinating to examine my family's life patterns as we answered this one question. There are multiple answers for everyone, of course, and sometimes what sets a family apart will be a problem they've faced together, or a crisis that they may or may not have weathered well.

Whatever gives your family a unique shape or shared experience is a fair answer to the question.

In the Church, it's so easy to get distracted into thinking that we all have to do all things equally well. But once you get in line with the ordinances and commandments, there's still an enormous amount of room for us to be different from each other.

Instead of taking our priorities from other families, as if we were competing in a hundred Olympic events at once, we can embrace our uniqueness and accept that we don't even want to a lot of the things other families do so well.

Copyright © 2010 by Orson Scott Card

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