I suspect that the topic is one that all of us who cherish our Southern heritage are well aware of. It might be deep in our subconscious or it might be part of our active thought, but an awareness of who we are descended from plays a role in how we live our lives.
An awareness of ancestors who prevailed in a time that was far more demanding than what we face today serves to inspire us to excel in our own lives.
There is something that is built into all of us such that we don’t want to disrespect the family name (and by extension, the family heritage). Think of the genuine disappointment and disgust that many feel when we see members of the British Royal Family engaging in behavior that any decent person would be highly embarrassed and remorseful.
“Epigenetics” is the name given to a theory that presumes that the life experiences of our ancestors are actually implanted into our DNA. Early psychoanalytical theory sought to find ways to deprogram this ‘genetic heritage’ assuming that an abundance of emotional and psychological characteristics emanated from this genetic ancestral baggage.
I’m not qualified to offer an opinion on the details or validity of this theory but it does provide an interesting opportunity to reflect upon how our lives might leave an imprint upon our posterity, not just for immediate generations but for undetermined numbers of generations well into the future.
BYU TV offers a very interesting series called ‘The Generations Project’. Each episode features a person who is seeking to gain context to their lives by researching the life experiences of their ancestors. It is fascinating and instructive to watch the process of discovery and the power of meaningful connections that are made with ancestors of earlier generations.
My eldest granddaughter bears her grandmother’s maiden name as her given name. Interestingly, even though a young girl, she feels a special obligation to carry her name in a manner that would please her great grandfather whom she has never met him. She is also always interested in learning more about his life. Is her interest and sense of obligation genetic or is it just curiosity? I don’t know, but clearly there is a connection that bridges the restriction of mortality and it helps form her understanding of who she is.
The idea of ancestral experiences having a impact upon our lives seems a universe removed from our current culture in which 40 percent of all children are born out of wedlock with little, if any, prospect of connecting with a father – let alone distant forbearers.
In the headlong rush to redefine marriage and family in ways that accommodate the here and now of sexual and lifestyle preferences, it may do us well to be mindful of the value of the past and future of family bonds and parental influence.