Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Pride in Heritage, Or Personal Responsibility, Or Something.....

I've often thought about the impact of one's heritage on one's present and future.  Most of us recognize the value of family stories in shaping what we value and what we become.  Social workers recommend that children who are fostered and/or adopted have some sort of album chronicling their lives to take with them and reflect upon to help them feel grounded.  I remember hearing a well-spoken sociologist describe the appeal that belonging to gangs has to disadvantaged youth in inner cities.  It seems there is a deep need within each of us to belong to a community of some sort - a deep need for belonging.  So, it shouldn't surprise us that so many people seek self-worth in their ancestry, or their contemporary affiliations.  I have been re-visiting these concepts recently for 2 reasons:  1)  I have been visiting blogs whose main focus is on "preppy" lifestyle (which shouldn't surprise you too much when you consider my current temp work); and 2) I have been watching and re-watching anything and everything PBS offers about Downton Abbey, which so aptly (and charmingly) explores social classes, ethics of heirarchy, etc.

In my last post, I mentioned that I had taken seasonal work in retail.  Chances are, you have heard of the company.  I have been taking phone orders for L.L.Bean, a company that was founded here in Maine 100 years ago.  I can't help it -- even though I can take no personal responsibility for the aesthetic and success of the company, somehow I feel proud of the company, its history and its products.  What's that all about?  I admit that I feel pride in being a "Yankee", but I'm also aware that in the big scheme of things, it just doesn't matter!  In God's eyes, we are all, each one of us, equally beloved.  He has numbered each hair on our heads, and His love for us exceeds the human heart's ability to fathom it.  And so, to me, in my calmer moments, it seems folly to pay too much heed to one's own heritage.  After all, just as we do not wish to suffer judgment, or worse yet punishment for our ancestor's trespasses, why should we hope to garner accolades for their attributes?  It seems to me that what matters is now, the present, and how we go forward from here. 
The Brits, have a saying, I think, something like:  "End how you mean to go on."  I mis-paraphrased it the other day, something like:  "Start how you mean to finish"; and while I think that thought has merit, it misses the meaning of "End how you mean to go on."  EHYMTGO implies that right at this moment you are at an important decision point.  You are involved in something which needs concluding, and should not be abandoned.  It almost seems that it warns against turning away and ignoring something you have botched.  I can't think how many times I have wanted a fresh start (daily), and how many times I have rued my actions or inactions (nightly).  But if I judge myself too harshly, I risk being paralyzed with shame, self-loathing.  In order to escape such punishment, I might minimize the impact of my own unwise decisions or actions.  Far better to acknowledge the error of my ways, and learn to make wiser decisions in future.  As Oprah says:  "When you know better, you can do better."(And in most cases, not only can you do better, but you have an obligation to yourself and others to do better.)  One of the most effective rebukes is: "Tut, tut! You know better than that!".  Another wise person (anyone know?) said something like:  "Those who ignore history are destined to repeat it."  What a gift it is to realize that we can learn from the mistakes of others!  I suppose that is another reason to be realistic about one's ancestry, and careful not to glamorize their achievements.  Surely there are lessons to be learned.
EHYMTGO insists that you learn from the past and tie up the loose ends and resolve to do better going forward.  I suppose this is important to me now also because we are in the New Year, and I am again plagued by the question of resolutions.  I think they are a good thing, in general, reserving a time on the calendar for reflection and EHYMTGO-ing.  And yet I rarely make any (beyond my usual triad:  Lose weight, eat more nutritiously, and get more exercise), and it seems these I never fully keep, so what's the point?  But I'm going to continue mulling this over, and maybe post again....

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