Institution of family is probably the oldest institution created by humans. The only other institution in competition with institution of family is society. It is difficult to say which one preceded the other. Even it is difficult to say, what led to emergence of institution of family. Whether it was a prudent, pragmatic, intellectually determined decision of entire humanity to organize humans into groups designated as ‘family’ based on the principle of consanguinity or it has occurred spontaneously due to human preference towards monogamy (demand for exclusivity in intimate physical relationship)
But one thing is certain that it is the oldest surviving human institution that continues to survive. Issues such as nuclear family versus joint family continue to raise heat and dust in human society. Concept of ‘family’ is deeply ingrained into our sense of humanity, ethics, morality and even law. Family is a legally protected and perpetuated institution in several of its facets. Rules of conduct within a family are quite different from rules of conduct outside the family.
But it is equally true that technological advances of the past and present century have enabled relatively independent living and as a consequence existence of institution of family is apparently threatened. Extended families have disintegrated into nuclear families the world over, children being reluctant to bear with and discharge their responsibilities towards their parents, in order to enjoy their individual freedom to the hilt.
Now, with technological advancement brought in particularly by World Wide Web, there is a talk about family of individuals i.e. if there are four persons in a family; that is father, mother and two children; then everybody is leading a totally independent life except the common roof and not even that. There is very little meeting ground left among members of a family.
Against the above background, the original question becomes all the more relevant as to why even in today’s world we need a family.
1. Sentiments and relationships:
No doubt, sentiments may be ephemeral in character but have a materialistic basis encoded in our genes and reflected as our innate behavior. That is the reason that parents can’t deliberately hurt their children even if they have done something wrong. People go miles and miles to please their spouse. Children demand love and affection to grow up. Elderly demand company of their children etc.
Relationships are a long term phenomenon and can’t be honored without commitment. This is because each and every relationship has its highs and lows primarily due to fleeting sentiments; and may be conflict of interests. Relationships can be sustained only if commitments are kept through such highs and lows. It often demands holistic approach rather than mechanistic, single minded objective and rational approach.
Somehow only within the institution of a family an arrangement can be provided for satisfaction of short term interests i.e. sentiments as well as long term interests i.e. relationships. Those, who opt otherwise, are often seen to run into difficulties.
2. Learning Curve: Human learning curve is steep one and technological advances of the past and present century have made it steeper. Gone are the days when age determined wisdom and knowledge of individual, so younger ones naturally falling in line with their elders and taking care of them in return. In several aspects of today’s life, children are better informed than their parents. But members of a family act as ready reckoner for each other and ever ready to provide hands on training in case of need. The only difference between past and present on this ground is that today relationships have become more equitable. The contribution of institution of family towards learning curve is that it eases out or smoothes the learning curve. Without appropriate family support even the most brilliant of individual is liable to get reduced to merely a spoke in the wheel and earn the title of ‘Learned Fool’.
3. Parental Care: It is amazing that no other species except Homosapiens requires such prolonged parental care in order to survive through Darwinian struggle for existence. But this mandates institution of family for humans. Further, children from broken families often have inappropriate personality development. Children need love and affection not only from both the parents but also from their grandparents for proper personality growth and development. It is highly undesirable to grow them up as monsters steeped in single minded, objective and rational pursuit of self-interest;
4. Care of the elderly and the sick: Because of advances in medical sciences, life expectancy has increased and diseases are not such dreaded natural phenomenon as they used to be. But somebody has to take care of individuals through their highs and lows. Nothing can beat the institution of family in providing ground level support through thick and thin that permeates human existence.
Undoubtedly, there can be many more reasons that mandate institution of family even today but for the sake of brevity present discussion is limited to the above.
Summarizing all above, despite all the technological advances of the past and the present century, human need for institution of family has not decreased. Rather, it has increased to ease out the learning curve through rapid technological advances and to provide care of the elderly and the sick.
Author: Dr Mahesh C. Jain is a practicing medical doctor and has written the book “Encounter of Science with Philosophy – A synthetic view”. The book begins with first chapter devoted to scientifically valid concept of God and then explains cosmic phenomena right from origin of nature and universe up to origin of life and evolution of man. The book includes several chapters devoted to auxiliary concepts and social sciences as corollaries to the concept of God. This is the only book which deals with origin of nature and universe from null or Zero or nothing. 32nd Chapter of the book is about Culture, Religion and Science.