One of the ways that adoption creates ripples is by pointing to the undeniable bridge that love makes between a family and a child without a blood connection.
Allegiance and loyalty to one's own family, traditionally defined by blood line and marriage, can be seen as attacked here. This is particularly true when this loyalty has been called upon to make repairs to relationships or to "hold the family together." If, instead of foregiveness, I use another value like that of the central strength of family, I place family in a place where it can be attacked. Then, when someone or something, including adoption, shines a light on this error, I become defensive, resistant, and even aggressive.
The crucial nature of love is that it does not need defense. Allegiance and loyalty do. People do. But love, itself, does not. Love is the true source of our valuing for family.
It is much harder to define family in terms of love. Blood lines, birth certificates, even adoption papers only label and document where love should be. Why we accept the compulsion to define in these terms is another expansive topic.
Can we accept that our only true choices are who, when and how to love?
If we can, then we can see that loyalty is not a stand-alone virtue. Allegiance to the values of our family, especially our parents and their parents and so on, are not the best measure of loving our family. There is no real measure. The first step in respecting them is by being grateful for their work in shaping our world, and more deeply, for the love they shared with us. Then we can accept that their failings and the hurts they passed on to us as we love them back, compassionately. We can then foregive ourselves for our own failings and hurts we pass on to others, despite our own best efforts and intentions. From here, we are truly free to continue the work they started, or continued from the previous generation. In this freedom, we feel the weight of the responsibility to make changes, to act, and most importantly, in a very vulnerable way, to love. This last hurdle is where we have our choice: to fear and push away the power to change and be changed, or to embrace it, and to feel all of the power, joy and pain that loving brings. This choice determines whether we are loved back, whether our children will respect what we have done to shape their world.
I intentionally left out the "where", "what" and "why" in the question above. The "why" introduces a much more abstract element to this. The "where" is embedded in the "when" - the right time for expressing love is directly and inextricably linked to the where. Also a divergent conversation.
The "what" is an important distinction. We make an important distinction between "what" and "who" - arguably not in the right place yet. For this, I would like to make the distinction between loyalty to ideas or principles, and loving people.
When we place greater value on an idea, especially ones that have a history of emotionally charged conflict, we risk placing that idea in a place where it restricts how, who and when we can love.
When we choose to hold an idea so tightly that we begin to deny how that grip harms others, we do harm to ourselves as well. We create a situation where guilt, projection, intolerance, fear, and ultimately hatred can grow between us and within each of us.
If we hope to persuade others of the greatness of an idea (cue Tony here!) we have to bring more than enthusiasm and certainly more than a strategy to increase its power. We have to share it by building a real connection to each other person, strong enough to support the idea’s greatness, and suited to the other person. This is a very intense process, unique to the relationship and the two people in it.
I have lived with values deferring to two generations back, particularly deferring to their values of gun ownership. Add to this the great legend told of how gun ownership helped give birth to this country. Add to this the lore and integration of guns as signs of manhood and extensions of personal power, and it is little wonder that this country holds so tightly to this value. I have grown to a turning point: I must respect my family’s values by moving beyond my need to hold onto those values. I give up imagining that this a way for me to continue to love them. My integrity and all the other things that they would love about me require me to value something else. So, to honor them and to be true to myself I have to stand for something new: I stand for a new America, one where we care more about each other than about individualism or family values or gun rights or any of the other political definitions of how we “have to” relate to each other. These “battles” waste our time, keeping us from a deeper reality. Political paralysis and lack of will are surface descriptors that do not help point the way to this deeper place.
Instead, we have to peel back how these “issues” hide the choices each of us make. We have to stop hiding from ourselves and each other the real (and only) choices we make: who and when and how we love.