When’s the last time you called your grandma?
Maya Angelou once said, “The more you know of your history, the more liberated you are.”
While studying history at the University of Utah about five years ago, I happened upon an article in The New York Times that changed my life. It not only reaffirmed my belief in the value of history, but also redirected my course of study within the field as a whole.
Entitled The Family Stories That Bind Us, this article provides scientific insight on the connection between doing one’s own family history and an increased capacity to develop resiliency in the face of opposition, specifically in the case of adolescent youth. In discussion of a study conducted at Emery University in the United States, this article concludes that:
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 believed their families functioned.
What an insightful discovery! Having grown up in a society bursting at the seems with childhood mental illnesses such as depression, ADHD, ADD, bipolar disorder, and anxiety, I can affirm that the cry for psychological stability is literally everywhere. Perhaps this is one way in which history, and more specifically our own personal history, can have real, tangible benefits in the lives of everyday people, children and adults alike.
How This Discovery Opened My Eyes…
After graduation, I began interviewing the elderly in my community. I listened to and recorded their life stories, and then made videos of their stories for their posterity to keep. The results were pretty incredible. My eyes were opened from behind the lens as I left each interview feeling inspired, strengthened and connected to something so much greater than myself. Their grit and tenacity, coupled with a greater perspective of life as a whole, changed me for the better.
It’s Bigger Than Me…
While I’d happily keep doing these 1-on-1 interviews for the rest of my days, I think that this is something bigger than just me. I believe with all my heart that every child, teenager and young adult need to have the experience of sitting with and really listening to someone much older and wiser than them.
I’ve come up with a way to make it easy and fun for young people to do just this; to interview and record their elderly relatives telling stories from their lives. (More on that here if you’re curious..). However, while COVID-19 is still a grave concern right now, I know we can’t physically visit our elderly loved ones in their homes. So! In the interim I’m instead encouraging *virtual visiting* of the elders in our communities!
My Challenge to You…
This week I challenge you or your kids to do a video-chat with someone in your life who could use a visit today. This could be a grandma, grandpa, a neighbor, or a family friend. Pick up the phone and FaceTime or Skype or Facebook video chat with them and just SEE the magic as they light up at the sight of your face. It will mean the world to them, and here’s the secret, it will mean the world to you, too.
And, if you need a little help to get the conversation rolling and keep it interesting, I wrote an ebook called Grandparent Chats a few months ago when quarantine began. It’s a collection of 10 curated questionnaires with the two-fold goal of:
-lifting the spirits of the elderly by engaging with them on a regular basis, and;
-inspiring youth to see personal value in the lessons our elders have to share.
In a society so focused on ‘having more’ and ‘being more,’ perhaps one way to thrive today is to better understand how we fit within history as a whole. Maybe one key to knowing how to best move forwards with purpose and confidence is to lean on the lessons of the past to provide guidance and context. I love these words written by historian Frank Harper nearly 9 decades ago in 1936:
While the outside is altered, the heart of life is unaltered.
We are, after all, a sum of many parts, and perhaps so much of that which has come before us actually does reside in who we really are.
Hi, I’m India – a new mom, fitness junkie and avid family historian. I believe that history gives us context, and I fear that in the midst of today’s fast paced world, we don’t take the time to appreciate the valuable lessons our elders have to share. My husband and I launched my passion project, Narrativo, in late 2019. We promote bonding between generations while giving families a way to preserve their stories with lifelike quality at a reasonable price. We strive each day to help young people find strength in the stories of the past, feel a sense of belonging in a greater human context, and to develop and intergenerational self. Check us out at www.narrativo.co!