Wednesday, March 07, 2007

A further explanation...

Due to an unexpected amount of interest in the subject, allow me to quote from the earlier-mentioned book: The Surprising Power of Family Meals: How eating together makes us smarter, stronger, healthier, and happier by Miriam Weinstein. If you have been participating in this conversation, I think it explains my view. If not, still read it! It is all about how knowing your family heritage can help a child succeed. I have added the boldness for emphasis. The Duke that is talked about is Marshall Duke, a clinical psychologist at Emory University.

"In recent years, psychologists have been paying increased attention to what might be called the bad things happen model of life. Instead of concentrating only on pathology, they are looking to understand its opposite -- how some people suffer tragedy and trauma, and yet go on to do quite well. Their goal is to build this resilience into children. Or as Duke puts it, 'to deal with what's in this life.'

Based on his clinical work, Duke had a sense that kids who knew more about their family background tended to be more resilient. This notion that we get strength from our family ties, from our antecedents, flies in the face of our peculiarly American celebration of self-invention. It is also out of step with the way that we Americans structure our families. Because we count the family as the nuclear, child-rearing unit, we create families whose goal is to self-destruct. We define successful off-springs as those who move out and away. Extended families almost never share homes or businesses, and the leisure time we spend together is often quite limited and formal.

Duke wanted to study whether a child's rootedness in his family contributed to his stability and resilience. So, along with colleagues at Marial, the Emory-based multidisciplinary organization that studies middle-class working families, he looked into how children learned about family lore... at the dinner table.

Beginning in 2001, Duke and his colleagues arranged for the members of forty-two families, each of whom had a child between nine and thirteen years old, to remember and discuss a negative and a positive past event, which were recorded. The families also recorded two dinnertime conversations. In addition, the parents were asked to tell stories about their families. But when they did, all was not sweetness and light. Duke says, 'They told horrible stories about bankruptcies, losing jobs, having to move, accidents; one family talked about a murder.'

But Duke pulls back to consider the context. 'You have to look at where they're telling about it. They're in the safety of their own home. The message is: Terrible things have happened, but we're okay, the family survives. We're thinking it gives the kids grounding, a sense of place, a sense of context.' And he goes on: 'Kids find heroes in their own family.'...

When the group wrote a working paper about their research, they called it Of Ketchup and Kin: Dinnertime Conversations as a Major Source of Family Knowledge, Family Adjustment, and Family Resilience.

The authors, whom I'll call the Ketchup Group, measured the kids in the study according to several standardized psychological tests. They found that the more kids knew about their families, the better they measured up. So those ridiculous stories, as well as the more serious ones, might actually have some value. As the Ketchup Group wrote, 'These give-and-take interactions go beyond influencing memories for the events; they encourage perspective-taking, critical thinking, theory-building, and relationship roles within the family... We propose that family narratives contribute to the current well-being an psychological immunity of its individual members.'

That is, we are our stories. Hearing the family tales again and again over time anchors our sense of who we are, and gives us a feeling of belonging and hope."


Well said.

7 comments:

Jesse Gardner said...

That's why we used to do family style meals at PCC; it was a survival thing...

Anonymous said...

To me, this post is totally different from the one that got this whole conversation started. The first one focused more on many, many generations ago. This one was showing the importance of learning from parents, grandparents etc. I think it is important to hear those stories from our parents and to learn from them. I disagreed with the whole "pride" thing from the first post. I can be proud of my parents, grandparents etc for what they went through and how they dealt with things. But, I don't really think I can be proud of my 15th great-grandfather. I can be interested, I can think it was cool, I can think he handled things correctly, I can think that how he dealt with something affected his son, who in turn affected his son, but I don't think I can be proud. I think pride has to have a personal connection. If traditional meals had been passed down to us, or we observed holidays from that culture, or we were even told anything about our Scotish-Irish ancestors, it may be different. If you don't agree, give me some examples of people you are proud of (or you think I may be) where I don't have a personal connection. aj

Anonymous said...

AJ, that's what I've been saying.
My original comment about taking pride in heritage really pertains to any ascribed status, which should be minimal. I think that pride should instead come from achieved status. You can also take pride in the achieved status of others, but that pride rapidly diminishes as the personal connection diminishes.

Sara- The inspiration I can get from reading stories of others isn't related to my ancestral connection to them, but to our similar position. I do agree with you, however, that I can perhaps identify more with those whose position is most similar to mine. But what constitutes a similar position is usually achieved, not ascribed.

Also, in this context, my position in Christ is an achieved status. I know that is contrary to the theological reality, but is true from a sociological perspective.
-MDN

Sara said...

AJ- What were we taught about our heritage as children that we should take pride in? Very little. Therein lies my point. I am beginning to collect and record as much information as I can about our past, so that I can pass it on to my children (the reason I called Grandpa the other day...)

And yes, I have more personal connection in those ancestors I have personally known than those who lived centuries ago- of course I do! I am realizing, though, that this pride I feel in those of old is more the feeling that I am connected to something bigger than me (as I have already said), that my life picks up where theirs left off, that I am laying the foundation for who my 15-great-grandchildren will be. That my decisions will indeed impact the lives of others, just as mine has been impacted. In that, I am proud of being Scotch-Irish. Sadly, I can't give you specific examples- yet. I guess right now the "pride" is at the point that it evokes me to learn more about it- as you say we should, MDN.

You also said that you can relate more to those with similar achieved status as you as opposed to ascribed status. I agree with that.

I think this is all coming down to a fundamental difference in paradigm. You all (seem to) view life from the perspective of an individual- individual rights are valued more than anything. I am changing more and more from that viewpoint- I am beginning to view my life as a part of the whole- not a separate part, but an inextricably intricate part. The pride I *feel* is just that- a feeling. It is an awareness that my life is interconnected with others. It is the realization that the community of believers of which I am a part (ascribed for my purposes) transcends not only space (with those on the other side of the earth) but also transcends time (with those who have already lived and are yet to live). This also holds true for not only the community of believers, but the community of mankind. This could easily be misconstrued into some far out extreme that I do not intend it to be. All I am saying is that my pride is based on the knowledge that I am the result of centuries of dreams, goals, successes, failures, and trials. In that sense, the sense that we are all indeed inter-connected, I can take pride in the accomplishments of those before me. I can take pride in my Irish heritage, because, after being kicked out of the country for stealing horses around the time of the Great Famine, my great-great-great-grandfather emmigrated to the United States- a mere hundred and fifty years ago. I am excited to embark on the journey to discovering what led an Irish horse thief to the person I am today.

I am probably not convincing you. In fact, I'm quite certain that I am not. And that's ok. I'm only figuring these things out for myself.

Anonymous said...

So...basically you're proud to be a human? -MDN

earl of lennox said...

"Oh, I'm not here with these fellas. I got a pig over at the livestock pavilion and I am gonna win that blue ribbon."

And dang it, I sure hope my descendents are proud of me!

His Servant said...

Pride is the difficulty part for me. I cannot make the connection in feeling pride in anything we had no part in creating.