Can We Justify Parenthood?

CTK is a great friend of the blog and a former perma.

Is it ethical to choose to bear and raise children in a world already full of millions of people with unmet needs? It’s almost a heretical question to ask in Mormondom, but I thought about it all the time before I had kids, and I still think about as I juggle my responsibilities.

My husband and I had a privileged vantage point on this question insofar as we had access to effective birth control and a lack of fertility challenges. We ultimate chose to have four children, who are now ages 2-10. So, we definitely dove into parenthood headfirst once we decided to do it. But as I contemplated choosing to bring a biological child into the world, I considered seriously the work of the utilitarian philosopher, Peter Singer, who expounds on W.H. Lecky’s thoughts on expanding circles of moral responsibility.

Lecky and Singer would say that our first moral obligations and ethical duties begin with family, followed by community, then nation, then the totality of humankind. Singer poses the question of whether we have the obligation to help a young child drowning beside us when doing so would pose no significant harm to ourselves. [1] Of course, we are in consensus that we are obligated to help the child. He extends the thought experiment outward to reach children on the other side of the world whom we might help through little effort and money commensurate to the need of the child, for example, through organizations like Oxfam. Leaving aside the logistical challenges and potential abuses of charities, he makes the point that our obligations are just as real and binding in relation to the child drowning next to us as to the child dying of hunger in Somalia.

[We] are all in that situation of the person passing the shallow pond: we can all save lives of people, both children and adults, who would otherwise die, and we can do so at a very small cost to us: the cost of a new CD, a shirt or a night out at a restaurant or concert, can mean the difference between life and death to more than one person somewhere in the world [2]

I have always seen this as one of the main ethical dilemmas attendant to raising a family: when you have children, your first moral obligation is to care for them. The amount of time, money and energy it takes to care for children precludes much of the service to society that parents could otherwise do. Or, through Singer’s prism, the time, money and energy devoted to raising your own children could probably go to help many more children globally if spent that way, so the zero-sum game of resources would militate against bringing new children into the world.

Now Mormon theology provides a partial response to this problem, as it posits that we are providing bodies for spirits who already exist and are eager to come to this world. There is an explicit assumption in this theology that gaining a body is a positive step in our development, and that therefore, by providing bodies to our children (and raising them), we are serving them and progressing the work of God.

Another way in which our lived religion helps resolve this tension is that it requires us to look outside the bounds of family in our callings in the church. I sat in a stake conference recently in which a woman told the story of struggling with a daughter facing major life challenges. Simultaneously, a woman for whom she was a visiting teacher had a crisis (one in a series – we all know about those types of visiting teaching assignments!). As she pondered how to help both her daughter and this woman, the speaker felt the nudge of heaven: Ï will care for your daughter as you care for this sister.” What a powerful reminder that is that although we are incapable of helping everyone, we are capable of serving those in our path, and that the Lord can help make it possible, even as we feel obligated to focus, perhaps too much, on our own families. Of course, one pitfall of that is noticing only those we are called to serve within our own church communities. In that sense, our church service helps us only very imperfectly in meeting the ethical challenge posed by Singer.

The ethical conflict still remains that we are removing resources from those already on the earth when we bring new people into it and that by raising a family we are devoting vastly more resources to our children than to the rest of the world. I feel this problem especially keenly now following the results of this U.S. presidential election. I owe conflicting duties: to my children, to raise, nurture and teach them, all of which require my physical presence, and to my country, which I believe needs my talents to fight against xenophobia, misogyny, white nationalism and hatred.

Do you agree that these are competing ethical duties, or do you question the utility of the utilitarian perspective? And if you do see a tension, how do you strike the balance of these competing ethical duties?




  1. jstricklan says:

    What a lovely post and a great invitation to discussion. I hope some pros will shed some light, but as an amateur who’s spent a lot of time on these questions, I would love to join in.

    There is a real and powerful pull in me toward the idea of the “Expanding Circle.” As a human being, let a lone as a Christian, how can I justify saving those close to me and not those further away? I submit that I can’t — except in terms of what my reach actually is.

    But Singer’s utilitarianism seems, to me, to have other implications. Far beyond denying myself the joys of parenthood, the best thing I could do under a hard-headed version of Singer’s vision is to amass as much power and wealth as possible and then hand it out in the most effective way I can conceive. But even then, I’ll never reach enough people that way to fulfill my responsibilities, and in the meantime I may be a less complete human being, and so will the people around me.

    Although I think this kind of life misstates Singer’s aim, I don’t think it is an unfair conclusion to draw from his approach. If I remember The Expanding Circle correctly, Singer, thinking about these ideas biologically, suggests that there is a minimum standard living level under which ethics does not demand that we go, and therefore there is a practical limit to our responsibility, even if there is no theoretical limit. That’s an arbitrary way to limit our responsibility, and he draws it because he must, not because it logically follows.

    And yet, how can I love properly if I don’t focus that love on individual people? A universal love that no one feels does no good to anyone — indeed, it seems like a cop-out. Which does Christ demand: qualitative or quantitative love?

    Dostoevsky’s solution[1] in The Brothers Karamazov is that “I am responsible to everyone for everything, and I more than any.”[2] Since we cannot and will not fulfill that responsibility, we need Christ.

    I take great comfort from the parable of the Good Samaritan in trying to resolve this for myself as an aspiring disciple of Christ. The Teacher did not, at any point in that parable, point to an upward limit to my responsibility, but he did praise the person who took the time to love the person he was with, and then go on to fulfill other responsibilities. Not to suggest that a low standard is invoked: it was expensive, socially difficult, and troublesome for the Samaritan to stop. The Samaritan, in the terms of Emmanuel Levinas, responded to the demand of the Other when it presented itself, wholly, fully, with hospitality. But the Samaritan’s responsibilities were not all-consuming, not necessarily, and Jesus said that was acceptable.

    I think this provides, for me, a justification to the question at the title of your post: yes, if we live humbly and well, if we live to keep nothing back for our own lusts, and if we recognize that one human life can only do so much but it should do as much as it can, I think we can justify parenthood — especially if we understand that we must help create humans who might save all the hungry children.

    [1] Dmitri Karamazov doesn’t quite get the point, Ivan Karamazov goes mad over it, and Alyosha Karamazov never fulfills his responsibilities within the pages of the novel, so maybe saying “Dostoevsky’s solution” is overstating it a bit.
    [2] That’s my own translation of the passage, and I’m taking a bit of liberty with the word “responsible.” The word Dostoevsky used might better be translated as “guilty,” but I have my reasons for translating it this way given the way the text of the novel is constructed outside of the immediate passage.

  2. jstricklan says:

    Correction: Sorry, I’m sure there’s a way to edit comments but I don’t see it right now.

    That Dostoevsky quote should read, “We are all responsible to everyone for everything, and I more than any,” emphasizing that although the requirement is universal, it is my duty first to fulfill my responsibilities as opposed to criticizing others for failing in theirs.

  3. Well we always knew the shelter dog argument would eventually be applied to human being as well. I think people that only adopt dogs for shelters–that’s great. But those same people who demand that everyone else also adopt dogs from shelters–not so great. Think about the implications of good people all choosing to forego parenthood.

  4. jstricklan give such a thoughtful commentary. Thank you. Yes, I agree that the onus is on each of us to determine the level of ethical living that is justifiable and then to, as Dostoevsky writes, be responsible for ëveryone and everything.” But it can be very hard to draw the line even on an individual level, and I think as a parent, I find it even harder.

  5. I think arguments like this vastly underestimate available resources and misunderstand the typical sources of extreme scarcity in economies. Overpopulation relative to local resources is often a result of resource scarcity, not its cause, and, in general, there’s plenty to go around and would be even with many more people. And with fewer people, the same inequities would obtain, since they have nothing to do with the size of the population. In fact, with fewer people in the world in the past, everyone was actually much worse off. Wickedness, monopolies, poor governance, disease, natural disasters–those things matter a lot, but not how many kids anyone has. In fact, the more children we have that we raise to be creators and Christlike servants, the better off the whole world will be. You could give all of your time to effect one unit of service in the world, or you could do a little service while also being productive in the economy and having children, raise good offspring who also do fractional service, and generate many total units of service. All as innovation continues to outstrip any doomsday predications about the world running out of grain, water or oil.

    As someone once told my uncle who was wringing his hands over going to law school: “there my be a lot of lawyers in the world, but there is no shortage of good lawyers.”

    And if you’re worried about climate change, reducing our population wouldn’t help that either. We’d just burn more coal per person and have even cheaper electricity. And have more square footage in our homes and eat even bigger hamburgers. None of that has anything to do with population–it’s about technology, the values of our societies, and governance.

  6. Clark Goble says:

    I think Singer’s thought experiment relies on a lot of hidden assumptions and of course some explicit ones (such as utilitarianism). The main issue depends upon an universalizing move that primes all our intuitions and allows the thought experiment to work. The problem with this is that of course anything positive yet non-essential for yourself or those around you then becomes evil since you could be helping people elsewhere.

    The counter argument is to make the same universalizing move only done temporally rather than spatially. The reason there are all these evils around the world is largely because of culture and politics. The only way long term to fix culture and politics is to give everyone the same culture and politics we have. The only way to do that is to establish our own culture strongly which requires doing the very things Singer’s intuitions argue against. This move becomes even stronger if death isn’t the end and there’s eternal life.

    That is utilitarianism depends upon an universalizing calculus but has essential ambiguities in the temporal field. Invert the argument and you have the same sort of thing going on. By not raising strong families and strengthening your local community you’re allowing future children to suffer.

  7. There is also the pure economic argument that bringing children into the world in our society helps perpetuate the prosperity that allows us to help others. If young people stop having kids, who will pay the Social Security taxes and other taxes that will support them and our whole crazy system when they grow old? Population decline, as we have seen it in Europe and other countries, is a very real economic danger, perhaps even greater than Trump.

  8. I do not see the conflict between parenthood and moral duty to humanity at large that you describe. The assumption that by having children I am removing resources could be countered with the argument that many of those resources would not exist until my need to provide for my immediate family responsibilities called them into existence. For example, the fact that I am able to make a financial contribution each month to a charity I support is only possible because the financial obligation of providing food and shelter for my family keeps my husband going to work each day. The real conflict is whether or not I will waste what we have been given on treasures “where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal” or if I will “love my neighbor (stranger) as myself”. My capacity to give generously has expanded as I realize how much of what my family enjoys daily is really the result of the Lord’s blessings, even though they usually come through what appear to be our personal efforts. We have been unemployed, we have been in debt, but we have always had sufficient for our daily needs. When I feel the call to relieve the suffering of others, I recognize the only means I have to do that with is what the Lord has already provided to me, so I willingly pass it on.
    As for the contribution of parenthood, as I have studied the effects of childhood attachment and also trauma. There is too much to go into in a comment, but I have become more and more convinced that my ability to provide a secure, loving home to children from birth is part of creating the change needed to help heal social problems in the world. Part of this is through providing an environment that fosters optimal development (physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually) so that those children, as adults, can focus on the needs of others instead of recovering from their own broken hearts and lives. There is a real need for those who are called to help those who are already suffering and battered by the roadside. However, there is also a need to foster more “Samaritans”. How do we do that? It was neither the education or the social position/calling of the priest and levite that made the difference. I can only imagine that the Samaritan acted as he did because he had learned to love others at home. I sincerely hope he did not neglect passing that training on to his own family members because he was too busy scouring the roadways for the next victim to save. I can imagine that on that journey, or another, he had a child with him.

  9. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    My wife and I applied a modified version of this in deciding against having additional children. We had always planned to have a large family (4-5 children). After our second we began making plans for #3, but decided that doing so would take away resources from those we already had (time, money, attention, …). These resources were becoming increasingly scarce for us. So, we decided that our primary responsibility/obligation was to those children we already had, and not any potential children that may come.

  10. I think that the questioning of the utilitarian framework is valid. I would also like to explore the economics of emotional energy. These responses are quite focused on the scarcity or lack of scarcity of economic resources, as was my discussion post. But I also think about the scarcity of my time and energy. Before I had children, I could, and I did, devote more of my personal time to helping others. Now, my children take up a bulk of my time, energy and intellectual focus. It is not just a challenge to decide whether to live in a nicer home to house my children or a shack so that other children may have more money. It is a question of whether I have the time to be the good lawyer mentioned above or just a wage earner on the side so I can give my time to my children. That is the aspect of the discussion I find most intriguing and troubling.

  11. This reminds me of this troubling, lovely, harrowing short little film produced by a BYU film professor I had. Figuring out how to take care of everybody is nigh unto impossible. The system we have, as you mentioned, is far from perfect but I’m grateful that there’s something to give me a little focus for my efforts.

  12. I’m not sure I buy they idea that we don’t have enough resources for everyone in the world. Certainly there are places of scarcity and poverty-even within the United States but the overabundance that other places have could more than compensate for the struggling areas. While I am not an expert, it seems the real issue is distribution and the corruption that allows corporations/governments/people to withhold aid, support, and assistance to people/countries in need. Consider the fact that in the U.S., we waste a significant percentage of the food that we produce. We also haven’t discussed the dwindling populations in Europe and the ways governments are considering to increase birth rates.

    To me, the real question is how families anywhere make decisions about needs vs. wants and how they maximize use of the resources they utilize. From that perspective, having a larger family makes more sense than a smaller family. People automatically assume that a larger family means greater consumption of more resources. But from my own experience of having six children plus observing the habits of large families, I would say that larger families probably consume slightly more than an average American family with two children but fully utilize those resources in a way that a smaller family doesn’t. My family of 8 (2 adults, 6 children) has the same amount of garbage that much smaller families have in our neighborhood. In fact, we often have less because processed food is more expensive than making food from scratch. Clothing that we purchase is more likely to cycle through a least three or more people, meaning that clothing has been utilized more effectively than the average cycle as are toys because they are passed down to younger siblings. We tend to purchase fewer clothes and toys than smaller families in my area because we have less space than they do. My home is an average size for the area I live in, but we have twice the number of people living there than is normal. So the spaces in our home (and the resources we consume) are being utilized by more people than the average.

    In some ways, it can be more challenging to meet the local needs than sending money to far away countries where their problems and challenges feel remote and even sanitary. It is much more difficult to tackle the gritty problems of our own communities and neighbors. I’m reminded of the fictional Hester Monk from Anne Perry’s novels who runs a nursing clinic for prostitutes in London. Money is a constant problem for the clinic where people would much rather donate to a remote cause in Africa because they are too afraid to look at the evil they and their society have created in their own backyard. While a fictional dilemma, its current reality is very appropriate.

  13. Regarding the lack of resources…
    “15 And it is my purpose to provide for my saints, for all things are mine.
     16 But it must needs be done in mine own way; and behold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low.
     17 For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.” – D&C 104

    HE knows it is His duty as Father to provide for us, as we do for our kids. He has said there is more than enough. My apologies to all of you ardent capitalists who don’t like verse 16 where he flatly states His way is the socialist manta of taking from the rich to give to the poor.

    Regarding the choice to not have kids…
    “Satan’s most strenuous opposition is directed at whatever is most important to the Father’s plan. Satan seeks to … confuse gender, to undermine marriage, and to discourage childbearing, especially by parents who will raise children in righteousness.” – Elder Oaks

    “Those who refuse as husbands and wives to have children are proving themselves already too small for the infinitude of God’s creative powers.” – Pres. Harold B Lee

  14. Our current system discourages educated middle-class folks from having many children. College costs for a state school are over 20k per year. Then you factor in all the sports, music lessons, (possibly) private schooling….then you have your own retirement fund to worry about. Pretty soon you have talked yourself out of having more than two kids. Yet somehow the “Jones” family in the ward with six kids, and not wealthy, seemed to do just fine. Their kids went to college, they got married. They don’t wring their hands and blog about their existential troubles. This world is for the living. This world will be owned by those who will live.

  15. I do agree that the wants vs. needs question is central to this ethical issue. I also wonder about how we do that analysis with our time and our focus? Money is not the only resource at issue.

  16. John Mansfield says:

    “the cost of a new CD, a shirt or a night out at a restaurant or concert, can mean the difference between life and death to more than one person somewhere in the world”

    I don’t believe that. I don’t believe there is some charity group out there that I could send $100 to save three people from death, or $10,000 to save three hundred. There are charities that do worthwhile things with the money they receive, but not nothing on that scale of benefit.

  17. Clark Goble says:

    There’s lots of drugs that can have that effect John. Of course they don’t work in a vacuum so things are always more complex. While I doubt most donations are like that it’s not hard to imagine ones that are pretty similar. (Say providing AIDS drugs 10 years ago)

  18. This is a tough one for me. I’m currently addicted to clicking through my friends Instagram photos of beautiful children, spotless houses, amazing vacations and just overall life perfection as I toil away in my office. It’s so tempting to judge their lives as frivolous and based in a superficial materialistic world view – especially given the horrors we all know that exist in this world that the money they spend on perfectly matched outfits and fabulous vacations could help in part to alleviate. I guess for most people the dissonance isn’t so great, but all of my friends with such beautifully curated and performed lives are LDS. Presumably there’s a higher standard to help others, but I don’t know what the practical reality looks like. I do know that ignoring the rest of the world while you’re going along your merry way and showing the rest of us just how fabulous your life is seems wrong for those who follow the LDS faith, however.

  19. My youngest brother used to argue that having more than 2 children was an ethical problem. Finally my dad reminded him that my brother was the third child. My brother turned out to be a very productive member of society.

    There is a very good reason for the Church to encourage large families in America and Europe. Since, most of the growth in the Church is happening in developing countries, to survive in future it will need serious tithe payers to sustain it bureaucracy and infrastructure. Short-term (and perhaps even long-term) they will mostly come from America and Europe. However, encouraging larger families in developing countries is seriously problematic. The Church needs to do more to raise the economic standards of its developing country members.

    I have one problem with this post: “The amount of time, money and energy it takes to care for children precludes much of the service to society that parents could otherwise do.” I think that is a serious cop out. There is no reason that serious love-thy-neighbor work can’t be done with your children in tow. By including your children, you provide an excellent example to them.

  20. Andrea Edwards says:

    I feel the tension and probably do not strike a great balance. I think a common response is cynicism, but that has never worked well for me. So I am stuck keenly aware of the disconnect between my stated values and those I actually live. There is only so much time in the day, and working full time + parenting takes a lot of that time. There is definitely scarcity of self to give.

  21. Hi Andrea Edwards, old friend! You are doing great work as a pediatrician and mother of three! I miss having our RadMos Manhattan group so we could hash these things out in person.

  22. I think the issue rogerdhansen raises is valid. I was not arguing that having children precludes all service. Not at all. I just spent the morning in my daughter’s kindergarten classroom (toddler in tow) sharing one of our Christmas traditions, which is secret service to people we notice and choose as a family to care for in the month of December. I read the book Circle of Friends to the class, and then each child was tasked with making a card and then bringing a bag of our homemade treats to someone NOT in the class and NOT in his or her family that day to learn the gift of giving love. I don’t say this to brag but to acknowledge that a lot of service happens in the daily work we do in our families in teaching our children and loving our neighbors. The tension I feel is about all the work I COULD be doing outside of parenting my children. I have extensive education and training that is not in use, and I feel the loss. I do think this may be particularly a challenge for mothers. I have become the primary caregiver, although I have not always been. I eliminated the gender overlay to my original post, but I think it is a special tension for mothers with professional backgrounds who also want to serve the world outside of the parenting/community realm. At least, it is for me.

  23. Is it ethical to benefit from cheap oil from Burma, which is controlled by a military regime and its allies, when the vast majority of Burmese have no electricity nor vehicles that require oil? Is it right to put the resources of a nation in private hands so that the controlling entities acquire great wealth while the majority of the people have only subsistence?

  24. jstricklan says:

    CTK, it seems to me you’re doing a great deal as you are. It also seems to me that your desire to do more might be something worth pursuing as opportunities present themselves. Or maybe not. Only you know the answer to that. Parenting takes time and energy away form other pursuits, but building good people is really important. If we all took just a little time to improve the lives around us, I can’t imagine that more people wouldn’t find opportunities to reach out to the problems they can’t reach. To that end, we have no better opportunity to shape people than our own kids.

    For example, my parents raised me in such a way as to care about taking care of others and sent me on a mission where I learned a foreign language. Now I’m working to (try to) help peole in these countries live better. My parents didn’t have a chance to do anything to help people in the countries where I work, because of their life and circumstances, but I might. (I’m trying, anyway.) I hope I will do good work, but it’s surely not enough, even if I were to be “successful” (a difficult concept in this field). What about the malnourished children in these countries, whose problems I can’t solve because I have no idea how proper nutrition works? Women who die unnecessarily in childbirth because they don’t have proper medical help? What about social issues in countries whose languages I don’t speak? What about all the issues with racism and sexism in the U.S., with income inequality, with failing communities and collapsing rural towns and prescription drug misuse and…

    That’s what your children and mine are for, I guess, if we teach them to go to their kids’ school, for example, and teach about reaching out in love to others. Someone in that class is going to be a doctor, and someone is going to watch their neighbor’s kids so their neighbor can run errands, and someone else is going to adopt a child, and someone’s going to say a kind word when an acquaintance really needed it.

    Or in other words, some must push and some must pull as we go marching up the hill, until we reach Zion valley…

    Although an occasional check for OXFAM or AIDS prevention or mosquito nets instead of a pizza probably doesn’t hurt, either. :)

  25. sbthatcher says:

    A few years ago I manned a food drive location with a man from the local Rotary club. I was blown away to learn about Rotary’s “moonshot” goal it set for itself to rid the world of polio, a goal which it has effectively accomplished. Mormons know how to do home and family, what if our moonshot was a home and family for all those spirit children who have bodies but no reliable or safe home and family? Estimated day there are ~415,000 children in the foster system nationwide (US), what if we brought them into our circle before choosing to have more biological children? My wife and I hope to do just that with our next child.

  26. Demography is destiny. Should those cognitively capable of even contemplating the utilitarian argument against procreation actually fail to reproduce, the results would be dysgenic thus making the situation worse for subsequent generations. Or, as Shakespeare puts it in sonnet 11:

    As fast as thou shalt wane, so fast thou grow’st
    In one of thine, from that which thou departest;
    And that fresh blood which youngly thou bestow’st,
    Thou mayst call thine when thou from youth convertest.
    Herein lives wisdom, beauty, and increase;
    Without this folly, age, and cold decay:
    If all were minded so, the times should cease
    And threescore year would make the world away.
    Let those whom nature hath not made for store,
    Harsh, featureless, and rude, barrenly perish:
    Look whom she best endowed, she gave the more;
    Which bounteous gift thou shouldst in bounty cherish:
    She carved thee for her seal, and meant thereby,
    Thou shouldst print more, not let that copy die.

  27. This is late coming, but a passage in book 1 of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s “My Struggle” speaks to this discussion. In beautiful honesty, he writes:

    “[My children’s] demands are very basic, there is nothing they like better than outings with the whole family, which are full of adventure…Even if the feeling of happiness this gives me is not exactly a whirlwind but closer to satisfaction or serenity, it is happiness all the same. Perhaps even, at certain moments, joy. And isn’t that enough? Isn’t it enough? Yes, if joy had been the goal it would have been enough.

    “But joy is not my goal, never has been, what good is joy to me? The family is not my goal either. If it had been, and I could have devoted all my energy to it, we would have had a fantastic time, of that I am sure. We could have lived somewhere in Norway, gone skiing and skating in winter, with packed lunches and a thermos flask in our backpacks, and boating in the summer, swimming, fishing, camping, holidays abroad with other families, we could have kept the house tidy, spent time making good food, being with our friends, we could have been blissfully happy. That may all sound like a caricature, but every day I see families who successfully organize their lives in this way.

    “…When I look at a beautiful painting I have tears in my eyes, but not when I look at my children. That does not mean I do not love them, because I do, with all my heart, it simply means that the meaning they produce is not sufficient to fulfill a whole life. Not mine, at any rate.”

  28. Alpineglow says:

    There is growing evidence that long-distance charity is often not very effective and sometimes counter-productive. Many scholars of economic development have become very skeptical about foreign aid and the charity-industrial complex. I’m not saying no one should donate to causes in, say, Malawi. I just think some humility about our ability to do real good outside our sphere of understanding and influence is warranted. While the needs may be greater in faraway places (and many of the causes are sexier than, say, addiction), we have a better chance of being effective at solving problems in our own culture and communities.

    Punchline: this reality makes me wonder about whether our obligation to those who are far away really is the same as to those who are close to us. At the same time, it can be unsettling to see how insular Mormons often are in their idea of who their neighbor is. So, I guess I see a need for balance. Perhaps a recognition that while all are our brothers and sisters, our calls to serve are often in our families, neighborhoods, and communities.