I loved last night’s episode of This Is Us. I felt the focus of Randal and Kevin’s relationship was very timely. Since our recent historical presidential election, racial tension has reached new heights, and fear is causing a real absence of true communication. As a society, we seem to be falling apart – and yet, the question lingering in people’s minds seems to be – are we lost?
While many feel hopeless, innately as a human race we seek for hope. So we fight each other for it. We fight a “system” for it. We fight whatever is necessary in order to find that hope for something better. It may be misdirected, but it happens, and before we know it, we are fighting against those we most love – or ought to love. Did we not see this last night between Randall and Kevin?
Virginia Satir was an author and social worker known for her work in family therapy. One of her concepts that is widely accepted and also changed the way we approach therapy. The concept is that the “presenting issue” isn’t actually the problem, rather there is an underlying problem that needs to be addressed. We need to dig deeper to find the real problem and then that issue or problem that we see will disappear as we resolve the underlying problem.
For most of us, when you read that you think, “Of course. That makes sense.” Sure it does, and when you are in a clinical setting it’s easy to remember that. So dig deeper. What’s the real issue? What happens when we go about in our day to day lives? What do we think when our brother is a jerk to us? What do we feel when our brother would rather sleep in the basement than share a room with you, or when he punches you on the football field in front of the school? What do we assume when he tells you to go away because he doesn’t want to see you?
If we put those pieces together, we would most likely think that the brother doesn’t like you. And it would hurt. A lot. We saw this last night with Randall and being both adopted and black in a white family, where he felt love but also constantly different, all he knew was what he experienced and what Kevin was willing to share – which was a whole lot of nothing. So Randall was left to his interpretation of the series of experiences with Kevin and he concluded that Kevin just didn’t like him.
Guess what? On some level he was right. It took them roughly 20 years later to understand each other. It was then that Kevin was able to tell Randall how he felt – that he didn’t hate him because he was adopted or black though that was a part of the circumstances. Kevin despised Randall because he felt his mother cared more about Randall’s happiness than Kevin’s. He felt constantly slighted and pushed aside. Yep. The white, middle class kid.
Randall was able to finally express the deep hurt it caused him when Kevin never took the time or effort to claim him as a brother – as Randall puts it. Randall had the acceptance from everyone else in the family, but there was a painful void that only Kevin could fill…and he never did.
It is now clear to me that the family is a microcosm of the world.
One of my favorite Virginia Satir quotes is perfect for this episode and for our current social climate. She says, “It is now clear to me that the family is a microcosm of the world. To understand the world, we can study the family: issues such as power, intimacy, autonomy, trust, and communication skills are vital parts underlying how we live in the world. To change the world is to change the family.”
And I would just add that to change the family is to change the world. (That’s a different article though.)
So let’s study the family. Let’s study this fictional family from This Is Us – this microcosm of life right now. Last night, Randall and Kevin were stuck. Even when they were “friendly” with each other, they were stuck. Randall’s wife knew it, and deep down, Randall knew it even though he denied that they weren’t brotherly. Kevin knew it when he first realized they were going to be spending the evening together – alone. Their differences reached its limit and anger, contempt, and hurt boiled to the surface until it exploded and they physically wrestled each other to the ground on the streets of New York.
I am seeing this all over right now! My friends who would normally not engage in intense verbal sparring have reached their limit and it’s getting scary. I never knew this side of them. I think they probably never knew this side of themselves either. People’s emotions are so enraged that no one is thinking anymore and they are willing to wrestle anyone to the ground who disagrees. It’s crazy.
In listening, they both changed for the better.
So now let’s enter our wee microcosm and get a look into how it can be handled. In the heat of the moment, Randall and Kevin stopped fighting (mostly because they were compelled to end it). They drove home in silence. SILENCE. During that time, they had time to think in the stillness. When they arrived home, Randall – the fan favorite because he was the victim of Kevin’s plain rudeness – was first to speak. And when Randall speaks, (sigh) it’s always beautiful is it not? He first spoke to Kevin’s perspective.
He was gentle and kind. He was humble and admitted that Kevin was right. Their mother did give more attention to Randall. He owned that experience. Then he calmly shared his perspective. In his kindness, Kevin was ready to hear Randall’s words, but also truly listen. For the first time, they listened to each other. It was only when they did that, when they listened to each other, were they able to move forward. Honestly, don’t they both have valid experiences? In listening, they both changed for the better.
In doing so, they got to the underlying problem. It wasn’t just that Randall was adopted, or black, or smart even.
Stop. Listen. Change. Repeat. It’s amazing how many wounds can be healed with these simple steps. Thank you This Is Us for reminding us how simple is actually really can be (though potentially painful) to heal our world.
Maybe we should start within our families. What do you think? I’d love to read your thoughts if you comment below.