Chesterton family

In Defense of Wearing Tartans

9:58:00 AMUnknown

I wish to introduce you to the greatest adventure you can have without ever picking up a book or leaving the comfort of your lazy boy. An adventure riddled with all the calamities and joys of the human heart. Tales of passionate lovers, woeful tragedies, and heroic battles, seen from your kitchen table, on your front porch, or while mowing the lawn.  

The world's greatest adventure which I present to you is none other than ... 

the family. 

When I say "family," I am not just implying your mother, father, sister, and brother. I'm expanding the term "family" to include the close knit, small community, a framework very similar to the clans of Scotland and tribes of Africa. In this broader understanding, I include the quaint, small town I grew up in: all the neighbors across the street, and even the milkman who makes his timely appearance every Monday morning.  

Overall, I am using the example of small communities as an analogy for my defense of the institution of the family, a defense which I will be borrowing from my good friend G.K. Chesterton. 

The family used to be considered the ultimate human institution, but in our modern era, this belief has been challenged. We no longer regard the establishment of the family as the main cell and the central unit which keeps our societies intact.  

For this reason, I believe an argument for the institution of the family can be grounded in the advantages of the small community, state, city, or village. 

Chesterton begins his defense by claiming that, "the man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world." (1)  

What he means by this is that like the family, a small community has the ability to broaden our horizons and bring us into contact with the rough and tender heart of humanity. 

I spent many years of my youth dreaming of what lay beyond the confining borders of my hometown. I can't tell you the number of times I've heard my friends say, "I can't wait to get out of here!"

But why do the angsty youth of Altoona or Hollidaysburg feel such an urge to escape Central Pennsylvania? 

Is it the remnants of the railroad tracks that stretch across town that bother us? The Italian grandmothers swapping recipes as they exit Mount Carmel church? Or the hustle and bustle of squirrels and birds as we rode our bikes past Canoe Creek? No, these qualities never bothered us, mostly because we never noticed them ... until it was too late. Until we decided that what really bothered us was the people. We were sick of the kids at school, the clerks at Sheetz, and the police officers who confiscated our skate boards. We were sick and tired of the same old people and, therefore, vowed that as soon as we could fly our mothers' coups, we'd pack our bags and shake the dust of small town life from our boots.   

We imagined that once we settled into a big college, a big city, a big society, we would finally be satisfied. We could choose our friends and only make the choices in life which would bring us the most comfort, happiness, and pleasure. And in doing all this we would have finally broadened our minds and been introduced to more diverse people and a much larger world than the one we found in our small hometowns. Right? 


Chesterton explains our blunder: people seek the large cities with their large ideas because they wish to meet people different from themselves. Those of us from small hometowns tend to assume that our next door neighbor is made in the same mold as our mother, standing by the same cliched, traditional values. Likewise, we deduce that our neighbors all bear one personality, the personality of the town: boring, outdated, biased towards a particular religion or political party. 

We leave in search of diversity and variety. 

But Chesterton warns us that if we do not first learn to appreciate the clans we were born into, our quest to broaden our minds may lead us to a dreaded narrowness: the narrowness of large society cliques. Chesterton observed that larger societies are much more prone to produce cliques, whereas the smaller society resembles the clan. 

"The men of the clan live together because they all wear the same tartan or are all descended from the same sacred cow; but in their souls by the divine luck of things, there will always be more colours than in any tartan." (2) 

Men of the clique, on the other hand, prefer each other's company because they have the same kind of soul, and this narrowness allows for a cowardly contentment. Their dinner conversations are always pleasurable and never uncomfortable. It is for this reason that our cliques have not broadened our minds.  Sure, we talk of politics, wars, fads, and religions, but for the most part we agree: no feathers are ruffled, and we can maintain our self-indulgent friendships undisturbed. 

Now I'd like to take a moment to iron out the wrinkles on your forehead. 

Chesterton does not admonish those of us who wish to move to Denver, Colorado for the rocky mountains or to New Orleans for their spicy gumbo, or those of us (including myself) traveling abroad next semester. He is defending the family by comparing its attributes with those similar ones found in small communities. Perhaps if men learn to appreciate the advantages of their hometowns, they'll understand why the institution of the family ought to remain the backbone of our societies.    

Whether or not you are revolting against the family or the small village, you are ultimately revolting against mankind. 

No where else on this earth will you meet a more diverse group of people. Why? Because your family and your next door neighbors were not of your choosing. These are not the people of the clique whom you have hand selected.  

To truly broaden our minds and to experience the variations and discrepancies of humanity, we need only to look to our fathers, our sisters, our uncles, or the little old lady next door.  

We choose our friends; we make our enemies; but God makes our next-door-neighbor. (11)

Our neighbors, our brothers and our sisters, come to us as they are; "clad in all the careless terrors of nature: they are as strange as the stars, as reckless and indifferent as the rain." We must learn to make compromises and adjust to these unpredictable conundrums--you never know what's going to come out of Grandma's mouth.  

Ultimately, our families and our small communities allow us to look humanity square in the face. Mankind with all its many faces, personalities, ideologies, and philosophies is present under our roofs, across our streets, and even down at the post office. 

Your neighbor is an example of the depth of humanity.  There is a reason why Scripture speaks not of one's duty towards humanity, but of one's duty towards one's neighbor.   

Our duty to love our neighbor is a serious operation because, like our families, we must love our neighbors simply because they are there.  I must make an active choice to swallow my pride, roll up my sleeves and face the toothy grin of the crazy old man next door.  God must have placed him on the other side of my property line for a reason, perhaps to broaden my mind as well as my heart.  

All in all, if what you're looking for is "a change," Chesterton and I suggest jumping over the fence into your neighbor's yard.  But hopefully now you know, "if your friend says he is fleeing from his hometown because it is dull; he is lying.  He is really fleeing because it is a great deal too exciting." (3) 


Displaying Annie Foster

I am an aspiring writer who recently acquired a passion for philosophy.  It is my dream that someday my writings will affect humanity in a way which brings them closer to truth. However, I would be equally as content as a stay at home mom who creates fantastical bedtime stories for my children.     


(1) pg 10 
(2) pg 11 
(3) pg 16 


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