What “The Last Dance” teaches us about family dynamics

Dr. Tim AllchinFor Those Seeking HopeLeave a Comment

The Last Dance documentary about the Chicago Bulls didn’t disappoint.  I moved to Chicago in 1989 as a 12-year-old boy, terrible at basketball, but still sporting a pair of Air Jordan’s that I had to earn half the money for.  (My parents thought $80 for a pair of shoes was ridiculous.)

I thoroughly enjoyed watching this documentary and remembering that phenomenon that was the 1990’s Chicago Bulls.  However, as a counselor, I also watched with an observing eye about the inter-personal dynamics that this documentary put vividly on display.

For me, The Last Dance has many parallels to how both unhealthy and healthy families function.

Unity of purpose is a powerful force.

One of the things that struck you most from the documentary was their driving desire to compete.  From the coaches, players, and management, everyone was unified on a single goal.  Similarly, when a family is unified, they accomplish more.

Image is less important than substance.

We may want the perfect Instagram picture that shows our family as happy, healthy, or active.  Yet, the image portrays is often not the reality we live.  Happy Anniversary or #beactive, family photos are fine, but they pale in comparison to substance.  The Last Dance showed how an image is deceitful and manipulated whether trying to portray a “nice guy” or “bad boy” image.

We can easily get caught in the trap of seeking to portray something we are not, a life we do not truthfully enjoy or find satisfaction in.  In our families, the substance of love, truth, encouragement, hope, and respect matter far more in the long run than any image we portray.  Images will eventually be seen for what they are, but love is the most lasting substance there is. 

Every personality type has a destructive extreme.

We admire people who accomplish feats that ordinary people can never achieve.  Successful leaders can easily become driven by pride.  Those who are driven by perceived slights, easily become motivated by revenge.  The fear of losing actually made many opponents more likely to lose.

Pride, revenge, and fear are destructive dynamics in family relationships.  At extreme levels, they create a toxic atmosphere that causes families to separate and fall apart.  In the Last Dance, we see how pride, revenge, and fear ultimately destroyed the ability to continue towards their common goal.

Unhealthy motivations may work short term, but don’t satisfy.

One of the most powerful moments in the documentary was the interview with MJ about what drives him.  He clearly was more motivated than his teammates and the rest of the league to achieve greatness on the court.  However, his motivations were complicated and often unhealthy.  Creating enemies, proving his high school coach wrong, personal pride to be the best, all drove him to work hard and play harder.  However, you didn’t get the sense he ever felt like he accomplished his goals.  There was always something else waiting, never quite finding contentment and peace.

God calls us to pursue Him, to live in a way that enjoys Him and pleases Him.  Basketball and winning were never more than a good gift to enjoy in God’s kingdom.  We can be motivated by power, greed, and many other good motivations as well.  Ultimately God desires for all of life to be about our pursuit of Him.  

What about your family?

Many of us have spent far more time with family over the past few months.  It may have been hard to watch and sometimes it may have revealed some difficult dynamics.  With God’s help, you can help your family move forward towards a healthier place.

If we can help you along that journey, reach out.  Our counseling offices are open for online video sessions and we will be expanding our face-to-face counseling as soon as we can safely do so.

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