Family is More than the Sum of its Parts

JoAnne Norton
JoAnne Norton

Aristotle said: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” a quote often used to describe families who own businesses.

Recently, a member of an extremely successful family business was thinking about the different inequalities in her family, now in its 4th generation of leadership. She explained that some family members had more money, others more education, and still others more creativity. I asked if I could share her eloquent and poetic description of her family’s circumstances if I respected her privacy by not revealing her name. She agreed that I could quote the following:

“For various reasons I’ve been contemplating the center of rose windows (stained glass works of art). The center is the still-point, the point of reference from which new ideas develop and their stories are told. If our family is a kind of rose window, our still-point would be shared values, and our unique voice. While our individual stories come with their own sizes, shapes and colors, all come with the potential to reflect beauty. And the rose window’s exquisite and ultimate grandeur may only be glimpsed when viewed as a whole, every part adding it’s particular glow/value to the still-point in the center. Even so, our values as a whole allow us to flourish, our shared values flow out from their center and we forget which pieces, by virtue of their size or shape, were ever considered ‘unequal.’ It is this we need to learn, or to remember.”

North Rose Window at Notre Dame Cathedral, Chartres, France, c-1235 photo- © Guillaume Piolle / public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
North Rose Window at Notre Dame Cathedral, Chartres, France, c-1235 photo- © Guillaume Piolle / public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Like the famous rose window at the Cathedral in Chartres, France, this family is more than the sum of its parts. Over the last decade, her family has carefully preserved their stories by writing their history, saving precious photos, making educational videos and listening to members of the third generation tell exciting tales at their reunions. They share great pride in their family’s many achievements and much laughter at some of the things that didn’t pan out so well. Family values and often-told stories give them a collective voice, and even more importantly, their shared values make the inequalities insignificant.