Our families and communities of origin provide much of the framework through which we understand our world. Ideas about life’s purpose and meaning evolve over generations and we receive bits and pieces of this wisdom formally through instruction as well as informally through observation and interactions. This collection of ideas changes over time as wisdom is inadvertently lost and as new ideas from the outside world are introduced to supplant previous worldviews.
Although we sometimes take this information for granted, as it seems to have always been a part of us, we have great love and respect for our families, neighbors, teachers, and others who shared our formative years. For some of us, it can be difficult to even think about questioning the basic premises beneath the surface of our family’s and community’s beliefs. For others, new ideas about the world and life are both welcome and exciting. And sometimes, we subconsciously continue family and community beliefs, behaviors, and ideas without thought to whether or not these things are actually relevant to our own personal lives.
Our families and communities shape our values and beliefs and the wisdom of previous generations provide a great amount of information from which we can draw as we make decisions. We can build upon what our families teach us and transfer this knowledge to the next generation.
An important part of growing up, which ought to be done before assuming a leadership position, is determining who we truly are and developing the ability to take or leave what has been presented to us by our families and home communities. Our families, friends, and communities can hold us back with love and a desire to keep us within their comfort zone. Intentionally changing family patterns can be difficult, even devastating. Others who belong to our group may feel as though we have left them behind when we choose to live our lives differently than they have.
It is possible to remain connected to these important people while having our own lives and identity. The stronger your personal identity, the easier it will be for you to hold your own while demonstrating genuine compassion and love for others. This will allow you to make decisions unencumbered by the complications of the past.
My grandfather has a cousin who went to prestigious Lehigh University. My grandfather and other cousins often stated that he thought he was, “hot shit” because of it. I, too, went to Lehigh University for my second master’s degree and I will be the first person in my family to complete a doctorate. Does this make me hot shit too? Not really. I think it makes me ambitious, visionary, and hard-working, just like the rest of my family. Achieving my educational goals should give my family something to celebrate and build upon rather than divide us and cause antagonism.
Although I am not yet a parent, I often think about the experiences that I would like for my children to have. I want them to experience all of the magnificent things I did with my family as a child, but few of the nonconstructive challenges. I also want to share the personal interests and experiences that I acquired outside of our family with them. I anticipate that they will share my natural curiosity and will have many formative experiences outside of our family, which they can share with the rest of us through storytelling and perhaps a few adventures.
Our families teach us many meaningful lessons about humanity, society, and ourselves. They also unintentionally pass along their limiting beliefs. We can bring great honor to our families by taking what they have taught us and sharing it with the rest of the world but also by bringing back to our families the many things we learn as we navigate the outside world.