Sunday, 7 September 2014

I’m one of a big family living in a large house that we have shared for hundreds of years. I enjoy moving around our home and have spent many years living in both the South Wing and Northern Suite.

Now some of my relatives in the Northern Suite want to divide the house. They tell me we’ll then be able to decorate the Northern Suite the way we want it and spend our money without consulting the rest of the family. I point out that we do most of that already. We have our own budget and our own set of rules; we decide how our children are educated, what medical care we all get, and we’re even in charge of the local policeman who tells them off if they misbehave.

That’s not enough, they say. By cutting ourselves off from the rest of the family, we’ll be able to spend our money more fairly, make sure everyone has enough to live off. I remind them we have the resources and ability to do this already, but they ignore me. Some admit that after the divorce we are going to be poorer and it is going to be difficult to get credit. But that doesn’t matter, they say. Life will be better for all of us in the Northern Suite if we turn our backs on the rest of the family. Only then will we regain our self-respect – a statement that confuses me, because I have never lost my self-respect as a member of both my immediate and broader family. 

I now face the prospect of a poorer life in a smaller home and most of my relatives will become strangers. I expect those relatives will react negatively if we reject them and we will lose many privileges that were once our birthright. Our former relatives will charge us more for business transactions as they place us on an equal footing with the rest of the world. Many of our favourite radio and television programmes will disappear. Without the support of our broader family we will find it more difficult to travel abroad – and when the rest of the world accepts us, it will be on their terms, not ours.

I am disheartened that many of my close relatives have such a narrow vision that they cannot see how much they gain from being part of such an old, strong and tolerant family and how much we will lose if we turn our backs on them. They are full of optimism, but I am more hard-headed. I know that if there is a divorce both sides will lose and the long-term legacy will be intolerance and resentment on both sides of the divide that will last for generations.