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Learning from Family History

By Daniel Hubbard | February 24, 2013

What does family history teach us? What do we learn from it? One thing that it can do is to teach us about life in ways we find hard to dismiss.

There are many hypotheses about why people love fiction. Many of those ideas probably contribute to the full answer. Fiction can be an escape from the daily grind or boost our moods with laughter. Another hypothesis is that we use fiction to learn about life without actually doing or experiencing the embarrassing, emotionally painful, socially unacceptable, dangerous, foolish, overly-ambitious and perhaps even lethal things that people do in fiction. That is almost certainly part of fiction’s role. It lets us experience a simulation of reality that neither traumatizes or wounds. It gives our unconscious minds a safe way to learn life’s lessons. Yet, it is also a role that people can dismiss if they try. “It’s just a story,” is a common sentiment. History can read like fiction but it cannot be dismissed that way. It happened.

Anthropology may not be fascinating reading for most but it does present us with idea’s about human culture. Of course, the lessons it holds can be dismissed because we tend to see humanity in a fragmented way. You can say “that’s them over ‘there,’ it isn’t us over ‘here.’ ” Family history is, by definition, “us.” That is the whole point. There is that innate connection to the past that cannot be so simply dismissed.

By doing the research ourselves, we also become inoculated against easy dismissal. Sometimes our emotional investment in our research can lead to problems. It can blind us to possible solutions to problems and tilt us toward one of many possible answers without sufficient evidence. That emotional involvement can also be a positive force. The research has been done. We’ve poured time and effort into it. When our research reveals for us a lesson that we might dismiss as unrealistic or irrelevant in fiction, or just “them” in another culture, that investment in the result says to us—

“You can’t dismiss this. It really happened. It is your ancestry. It is part of you.”

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