Human behaviour has always always fascinated me. And among those is how one person influences another – be it an opinion they have about a person or place, food, clothes etc. During my recent visit to Chennai, caught up with a friend & during the course of conversation, among the many topics we spoke about how families [parents and other elders] tend to thrust their opinions about other families on the next generation. 

I have always been of the firm belief that one should form their own opinions on things and people. They can hear others out, but never form an opinion based on that. Agree?? Infact, I have a disclaimer that I add when talking about food, entertainment or clothes. It is extremely personal and what one likes, the other need not like and there is no compulsion either. The same holds true for people. I might have a certain equation with X, but that doesn’t mean others need to have the same. It could be completely different. 

Among humans, it is all about behaviour, body language, personality, mind set and more. Right? Let me share an example here- Since moving to Pune, am constantly looking for ways/events/trips to meet and connect with locals. During one such, connected with another lady M, and we hit it off [or so I thought then]. After meeting a couple of times, her true colours began emerging, and turns out she has some major insecurities about herself, and just lashed out at me during a group dinner. Me being me, apologised, asked if we could talk [she declined and said it was her, not me] & we just drifted. I met another girl B who was part of the same circle, who opened up and said this person had said things about me that influenced her opinion of me, and things changed after we met… Oh well~~ While I am glad, she got to know the real me, it is sad that she got influenced so easily!! Each one to their own, right?!

Imagine being amidst family, and you have people whispering of “that Aunt M always takes advantage,” or “Uncle G never takes responsibility,” and so we stay away from them, you do too, ok?!. These seemingly harmless nuggets of opinion can have a profound impact on how children form their own relationships within the family. And then when they come to know that you and aunty M actually get along or that you and Uncle G have been in touch, they kinda get all worked up & angry. Err, my life my opinions and my equations. Duh~~ 

Similarly, there are quite a few aunts and uncles I am in touch with, that my immediate family isn’t fond off or keep in touch with. I chat, visit them and even exchange gifts/things etc. Being a fairly private person, I don’t share about these with my family. It’s my life! On the rare chance they find out, i get quizzical looks and am frowned upon. Hey, lemme be! Live and let live, i say! 

Here’s why this dynamic becomes problematic:

1. Poisoned Perceptions: When children hear negative opinions about loved ones repeatedly, it can cloud their own judgment and create a warped perception of those individuals. They may start interpreting neutral actions as malicious and develop preconceived biases that hinder genuine connection.

2. Unfair Representation: Often, adult criticism stems from personal conflicts or long-held grudges. Their opinions may be fuelled by their own emotional baggage, not an objective assessment of the person in question. This unfair representation can breed unnecessary negativity and conflict within the family.

3. Manipulation and Division: Whispered gossip and negativity can be a manipulative tool. It can pit children against other family members, creating unnecessary divisions and fracturing the very fabric of family unity.

So, how can we break free from this cycle of negativity and foster an environment where children can form independent, unbiased relationships with family members?

1. Open Communication: Instead of whispering, engage in open and honest conversations with your children. Encourage them to form their own opinions based on their experiences and interactions, not yours.

2. Acknowledge Personal Biases: Recognize and admit your own emotional baggage and potential biases regarding family members. This doesn’t mean erasing your feelings, but rather being mindful of how they might influence your words and actions.

3. Focus on the Positive: Actively highlight the positive qualities and contributions of other family members. Share instances where they showed kindness, humour, or strength. This helps create a more balanced and realistic perspective for your children.

4. Respect Boundaries: Remember, your children are individuals with their own thoughts and feelings. Don’t force your opinions on them, but rather guide them towards forming their own judgments through open communication and honest reflection.

Ultimately, fostering a healthy family environment hinges on respect, open communication, and a conscious effort to avoid poisoning the well with negative biases. Let’s strive to create a family tapestry woven with understanding, acceptance, and the freedom for each individual, young and old, to form their own relationships without the shackles of imposed opinions.

Do you have any such experiences? How do you handle them? 

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