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  • Writer's pictureHollie

Blood of the Covenant

I’ve long had a fascination with the intricacies of human language and how it can influence ways in which we think and feel. Music, mantras, poetry - they all have the power to communicate profound emotions, and carry more meaning than the sum of their individual words. When I was studying linguistics in undergrad, I took a great interest in learning about proverbs and their etymologies. I learned, for example, that ‘to bite the bullet’ came from days of warfare when doctors were short on anaesthesia, and they’d ask patients to bite down on a bullet to distract from the pain. And that, ‘to give the cold shoulder’ had come from a custom in the 1800’s where serving someone a cold piece of meat from the shoulder of mutton, pork, or beef for dinner (as opposed to a warm one), was a way to communicate that they were unwelcome and should leave. As you can imagine, over the years these meanings have changed - some more than others.


‘Blood is thicker than water’ is one such phrase that has lost its intended interpretation over time. Today, it is commonly used to express the idea that familial (or blood) ties are stronger and more enduring than other relationships, and that these loyalties should be prioritised and valued above all else. The thing is, family relationships -can- be strong and enduring when you come from a family that has integrity, is supportive, and reciprocates things like respect and empathy. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case, and the core belief behind this expression often ends up either trapping people in unhealthy or abusive situations, or making them feel massive amounts of guilt over choosing to not have contact with certain members of their family - neither option bodes well in terms of mental and emotional wellbeing. I wonder if we can start to shift that sentiment? 


“Blood of the covenant is thicker than water of the womb.”


Although not historically accurate, I much prefer this ironically flipped and extended version of the expression, which challenges the precedence of biological family ties in certain contexts. It instead suggests that the commitments we make by choice (the covenant), hold far greater significance than those imposed by birth (the womb). This is not to say that family isn’t important, but that family should not be exempt from the fundamental principles of healthy relationships - mutual respect, trust, support, and consideration. Whether by blood or by choice, our relationships should enrich our lives and function as a privilege, not a right.


Deciding to distance yourself or cut ties with a family member can be a really difficult thing to navigate. We are often left with feelings of guilt and shame, along with the weight of expectation,  judgement, or blame from others. We struggle because it can feel like an act of betrayal to our biology, our culture, our community, and our sense of self. However, we can challenge these feelings and choose to recognize that simply sharing familial ties with someone should not automatically grant them unrestricted access to (and demand on) our lives, and at times, it may be necessary to establish boundaries with those who do not contribute positively to our growth. 


As children, we are brought up to put our families, especially our parents, on a pedestal - often being pressured to ignore hurtful behaviours and show unwavering respect. However as autonomous adults, it’s important we develop a sense of care and respect for ourselves by understanding that the people we surround ourselves with act as a mirror. How they treat us, how they speak to us, how they engage with us, all impact on things like our confidence, self-esteem, and self-worth. How they see us is often how we learn to see ourselves. So, if you weren’t fortunate enough to have been born to a family that is attentive, supportive, and safe, you can create a different one - one that can be a just, if not more, significant part of your life. Know it’s possible to prioritise relationships with others that are based on shared values, experiences, or beliefs instead. You can choose to weigh your relationships on merit, rather than on the accident of shared DNA.



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