If you know your history
Then you would know where you coming from
Then you wouldn’t have to ask me
Who the heck do I think I am.
– From Buffalo Soldier by Bob Marley
Your Family Story Ripples Through Time
Knowing the dynamics of your unique family history can explain patterns of behaviors, relationships within the family and ways members compensate for their pain. Our families are as dysfunctional as their secrets. Surfacing the shadowy behavior and history we’d rather avoid or deny reduces the risk that these old patterns will be repeated.
Therefore, it’s important to understand your complete family history as objectively as you can and as far back as you can. You want to know who had an issue with alcohol, the law, and money. You want to know which uncles fought with each other, who was born out of wedlock, and who left their family. Stay curious about where certain patterns started as you look back to past generations, even it makes you uncomfortable. Collect these stories and share them with your children.
Sharing All of Your Story
Then there’s your personal history. Your successes and failures, the way you compensate for your wounds and insecurities and the untold parts of your story you hide. We, too, are as dysfunctional as our secrets and when we don’t tell the full story about the divorce, violence, abandonment and chaos, we perpetuate confusion for future generations. Your secrets can set up your progeny to carry your unresolved negative emotional and behavioral patterns. Tell your full story so those who are close to you so they can better understand you and themselves.
What’s Your Cultural Story
How well do you know the history of your culture? Where did your people come from? How did they get to the U.S. and under what circumstances? What were they leaving behind?
I have become increasingly curious about what the U.S. looked like before the British and Europeans got here. Who lived in the area I call home? A developer bought land from a rancher and built my golf course on it. From whom did the rancher get the land? I want to know the full history of the land I own and live and play on. How can I understand the history of my town if I don’t know the history of its land ownership? I want my kids to know how our family got to where we are.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
I can’t understand the history of my culture without understanding the inconvenient truth about my fellow Americans who were and are marginalized and oppressed. It’s part of my story because, like my family, I am my culture.
Actor Morgan Freeman once told a white interviewer who asked him if he appreciated Black History Month, “I don’t like it. Would you like it if there was a White History Month?” To thrive as a culture, white people must learn about Black History so we can fully understand white history. Black history is as integral a part of U.S. history as white history or European history or the history of indigenous people.*
Understanding history, especially the untold parts we’d rather not talk about, makes us aware of our collective cultural blind spots and may help you and me stem civil polarization. We need to hear the stories. We are as dysfunctional as our cultural secrets.
Step Out of Your Bubble
My world view is shaped by my family system, my life story, and my cultural bias. I must work hard to remind myself that my world view is that of a white, American, male, cisgender, able-bodied, heterosexual. I check all the boxes for being in the dominant groups and I’m privileged in that I never fear being a target or being excluded. The more aware I become of my privilege the more isolated I feel and the more I feel trapped inside a bubble. I am beginning to understand the source of that isolation and its accompanying arrogance, shame and grief. I want out of my bubble else I will remain an unconscious contributor to my culture’s blind spot and dividedness.
I want to make a positive, loving contribution wherever I can. I want to feel connected to those outside of my bubble. I want to acknowledge my privilege with humility and empathy. That’s why I do the messy work to heal my family, personal and cultural wounds. I don’t need therapy to do it, I need to be aware of what my blind spots cost me in terms of the depth and breadth of my relationships and how safe I am for a diverse range of people to be around. And I need to share my history and beliefs with those that matter.
Jesus said, “The truth will set you free.” He could have added, “And it could make you very uncomfortable.” I’ll take those truths that set me, my family, and my culture free over comfort any day. How about you?
*Check out this excellent new Masterclass on Black History. It’s a straightforward history lesson taught in 15-minute lectures grouped in three parts. Free here https://learn.masterclass.com/blackhistorymonth and on Amazon Prime