08 September 2013

"The Stories That Bind Us"

In the current September 2013 issue of Reader's Digest, I came across an interesting article (p.32, The Stories That Bind Us by Bruce Feiler), that made assertions about the importance of sharing family history stories with our children. The things that happened to our grandparents and beyond can have a significant bearing on how we and our children respond to modern day pressure and stress. Marshall Duke and Robyn Fivush, both psychologists at Emory University conducted a study in 2001 with a group of about four dozen families to see if this hypothesis was true. The incredible conclusion was this--"the more children knew about their families' histories, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem, and the more successfully they believed their families functioned." (p.33)

The article goes on to explain how knowing about our past gives us a sense of being a part of something larger than ourselves. This takes us back to those elemental questions of who am I, why am I here, and where am I going?  There has been a tremendous increase in interest about knowing where we came from, as exemplified by the popular TV show, Who Do You Think You Are? We all came from somewhere, and the need to know the answers can become of tantamount importance, particularly for adoptees. By knowing where we came from and something about the people from whom we're descended, we gain a sense of self-confidence that cannot be obtained any other way. Knowing about our grandparents' or even great-grandparents' struggles can give us strength to persevere through our present-day circumstances that could otherwise be overwhelming.

During the time I served in the US Navy as a neuropsychiatric technician at Oak Knoll Hospital in Oakland, CA, I worked with many marines who had come back from Viet Nam thoroughly messed up from drugs and/or PTSD, although PTSD was not as recognized as a disorder in the late 60's. I studied the POW/MIA outcomes, some of which will never be resolved. The common thread I saw in my distinctly unscientific study was that those people who had the best outcomes were those who had a solid family/religious basis during their growing-up/adult years. This was the anchor that kept them grounded and provided them with the will to survive and the strength to endure under horrible circumstances.

We know how priceless it would be to have personal memoirs written by our ancestors, but it's also just as priceless to record ours for the generations that are already following behind us. How we have handled our lives could be of great importance to a future grandchild (and beyond) who is seeking to know something about us. Our lives matter. What we do with our lives matters. Our stories could inspire our descendants to persevere rather than to give up.

Moral of the day: Write Your Story!

Jan Domenico, contributor


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