WHO ARE YOU? Part 1: Looking Back
"It is wisdom to know others; it is enlightenment to know one's self."
Aristotle said that "knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom." One way to come to know ourselves is to explore our roots. My wife Marcie enjoys watching Henry Louis Gates, Jr. on PBS as he uses family history and genealogy to help celebrities understand who they are. Both Marcie and I are avid family history buffs, and we love how it gives us, our children, and grandchildren a keener sense of who we are and how we fit into the larger scheme of things.
Dr. Marshall Duke and Dr. Robyn Fivush of Emory University were fascinated by the possible connection between children's knowledge of their family's narratives, and their happiness and resilience. They developed a measure called the "Do You Know?" scale that asked children to answer 20 questions. Examples included: Do you know where your grandparents grew up? Do you know where your mom and dad went to high school? Do you know where your parents met? Do you know an illness or something really terrible that happened in your family? Do you know the story of your birth?
Dr. Duke and Dr. Fivush's research led them to an overwhelming conclusion. The more children know about their family's history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem, and the more successfully they believe their families function. The "Do You Know?" scale turns out to be the best single predictor of children's emotional health and happiness. See more in a New York Times article by Bruce Feiler at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/17/fashion/the-family-stories-that-bind-us-this-life.html
Both Dr. Gate's PBS program and Dr. Duke and Dr. Fivush's findings confirm what most of us know intuitively: Having a sense of belonging to a larger family is one of the best ways for us to understand ourselves. It's reassuring and soul-satisfying to know the identities and stories of "our people." Knowing about their life journeys helps us navigate our own more successfully.