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Defining future generations

Observer Viewpoint | Wednesday, March 31, 2004

We are a generation in the making. During these young days in college and in the years soon after, many of us will make pivotal decisions that will set the course for our generation and the next one that we will give birth to. The roles we play particularly in relationships and families will be crucial. Yet, we are inheriting a world from our parents’ generation that is marred by growing rates of divorce. Here, our community can assert its power to promote the values that lead to lasting relationships and families.

There is a definite place for developing family values here at Holy Cross College, Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame. These values are consonant with the highest ideals of our institutions. If our graduates are to make a difference, then we will stoke our concerns about relationships and family.

I asked Dean Ava Preacher in the College of Arts and Letters about role of colleges in cultivating family values. She championed the concept saying, “Higher education is not just about teaching values in the abstract, but how to incorporate those values into everyday experience.”

Our community already has the values that create a strong family atmosphere. But do our schools foster the values in the students that specifically lead to good long-term relationships and families? Wouldn’t our time now in community be an opportune chance to discuss a little more deliberately what has succeeded and failed in our different family experiences?

In the wake of unprecedented rates of failed marriages and split families among our parents’ generation, I have hope for what our generation can do. Many of us have felt the sting of our parents’ failure. Our heartbeat echoes the deepest voice of our soul: “Never again, never again.” We can swear now to do whatever possible while we can to keep ourselves and our friends from repeating destructive decisions. We can make progress, especially here during this time in college.

We can do better at avoiding the common follies that are made when young bliss isn’t checked by concerned friends or an environment of “smart romance.” We can drastically mistake the early euphoria in a relationship for everlasting love. We can feel so much but think too little. We can make choices in a relationship that commit more than we really intended to give, only to realize our mistake far too late.

Passionate feelings and physical attraction do have a role; they are a must for any sustained relationship. But beyond this there needs to be an objective, rational evaluation of compatibility. The importance of dating becomes clearer here as it helps refine this integration process of heart and mind.

The skills developed in dating become lifelong assets in marriage. Dating helps us learn about the non-passionate elements of a relationship that can make or break a marriage later on. These elements include financial compatibility, long-term goals, adaptability, personal convictions, communication style, time management and fighting fairly. Understanding these areas is worthwhile but it can take a very long time.

Those having flowery, romanticized perceptions of love can fail to see the importance of this long-term commitment to hard work: Successful relationships aren’t 50-50. They require 100 percent from both people. At times this commitment can be anything but glamorous. But this love found first in shared sacrifice will give rise later to shared joy.

So what can we do now to cultivate values for strong relationships and families?

First, conferences, discussions and dorm presentations could be planned around theme of dating, marriage or raising a family. Preacher notes that events with this theme, like Theology on Tap discussions have had a huge draw in the past. More events like this could also combat the negative dating karma associated with our community.

Second, professionals – especially female professionals – could be brought in to act as mentors and to speak about innovative ways they have found to work with their spouse and employer to balance family and work. The “Women of Notre Dame project” already tries to do just that.

Third, we can talk to our parents and grandparents more about their love stories. As we get older, it becomes easier to rediscover a relationship with our parents as peers. This means finding out more about our parents than they wanted us to know in the past and learning from their successes and bloopers.

Fourth, we can find more ways to integrate romance and faith. John and Slyvia Dillon, who counsel couples getting married at the Basilica, underscore the results of studies showing that marriages have a stronger foundation and lower chance for divorce if they incorporate the elements of an active faith, like compassion, listening and forgiveness.

We will soon begin to make the decisions that will define our generation and create the world our children will receive. If we have hopes of making a difference and changing times, we must be sure to look at ourselves and the values we will carry into relationships. Here and now in our community is a perfect time and place for this growth.

Andrew DeBerry is a fifth-year senior majoring in aerospace engineering and minoring in Middle Eastern Studies. His column normally appears every other Thursday. He can be contacted at adeberry@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Observer.