A Heritage of Listening & Questioning

by Johnathan Storlie, PhD

“Children who know their family history, who have shared in these stories, develop a sense of self embedded in a larger familiar and intergenerational context, and this sense of self provokes strength and security.”-Marshall Duke, Psychologist at Emory University

Timeless questions empower our children to build A Mighty Fortress

“We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” -Mother Teresa

Today, most families report being stressed by too much work or other activities. Parents report that the interactions they have with their children are primarily logistical and imperative in nature. Parents tell children, “pick up your room,” “get on the bus,” and “don’t  [do this bad thing].” Many families are so overbooked that they cannot make time for quality interaction with their children.

Parents might be tempted to respond that they have to be short because their kids never listen to them otherwise. Kids, on the other hand, feel they have the right to ignore their elders for being so “out of touch.” How can we address this serious cultural problem?

One possible solution starts with listening to or reading the authoritative wisdom of the past, especially that which transcends the idiosyncracies of any one generation. This wisdom can be found in our elders’ stories, in our prophets’ writings, and in our great philosophers’ works. Sure, sometimes these stories and writings don’t always seem to agree or make everyone comfortable. However, to ignore the collected writings of humanity, simply because some of them don’t make some people comfortable, is to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Only by listening to the many seminal ideas from the diverse religious, political, and philosophical thinkers of the last 3,000 years can we become people ourselves worth listening to. We will be fools if we only listen to other fools within our own generation, no matter how numerous or wealthy they may be. We are hypocrites if we expect younger generations to listen to us when we have not listened to the wisdom of our elders.

“Parents, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”  Col 3:21

“As a child, he was full of questions”

It seems that it has been a long but increasingly slippery slope that has led us to where we are today. Although it is always popular to blame individuals, if we actually wish to fix the problem we have to think systemically. We have to look at the systems that reward dysfunctional and short-sighted behavior. Our system is a legal system and it could be argued that our problems stem from a subversion of the constitutional principles upon which that legal system rests. Although this subversion was probably led by well-intentioned idealists, the primary beneficiaries were the industrial complexes and not the average hard-working American that those idealists hoped to help. America, without the leadership of sage statesmen, has become the puppet of big media, big finance, big military, and their big lobbies who have literally fleeced us of our savings. By moving America away from democratic republicanism and toward referendumism, we have neutralized the great statesmen and enfranchised Joe Puppet. The sage statesmen like Jefferson, Lincoln, and Webster were actually the true champions of the little guy because they were able to discern and communicate to their fellow legislators the importance of policy that is good for all Americans and not merely policy that is good for some “elect” Americans. By giving ever greater power to the less actualized under the guise of democratizing America, we have become a nation ruled, de jure, by myopic generationalists and, de facto, by a corporate oligarchy. Sure, there are still people around who can see the problem, but through careful gerrymandering, the industrial complexes have ensured that those prudent sages will never be in a position of power that would compromise their corporate monopolies.

As a nation, how can we break the the spell of generationalism that has been cast upon us? How are we to foster a respect for right, when a respect for might masquerades as a democratic virtue? Thomas Jefferson envisioned these United States as a democratic republic where “the natural aristocracy” would lead. This natural aristocracy was to be intimately familiar with the great ideas of the past, so much so that their judgment would not be swayed by idiosyncratic traditions and popular prejudices. But our current state is very different from Jefferson’s vision, as politicians are becoming less and less philosophical and more and more “finger to the wind” yes-men. Blaming the politicians does nothing to fix the problem, because the system continues to reward yes-men and punish those who put future generations’ welfare first. With all the political mud slinging going on these days, there is much disincentive for an honest, philosophically reflective, community minded, reputation-conscious family person to run for office: Thus, ironically, the very type of person that the founding fathers wanted to represent the people in the legislatures has no desire today to subject his family to the inevitable media slander that comes with office. The type of people who are generally attracted to and elected for office today are not the type of people who the founders wanted to represent people.

Although it seems, at times, impossible to put America back on the track envisioned by our founding fathers, there are little things we can do to resuscitate Jefferson’s vision of a true heritage for America. First and foremost, parents can start to take back time with their children in quantity and quality. By promoting the understanding of our children, we are doing as much as anyone can to preserve the American dream. And to raise children like Jefferson, you need to spend a lot of quality time with them.

“He who has a why to live for, can bear with almost any how.”-Friederich Nietzsche

What is quality interaction with your child? It is turning your respectful attention toward your child. It is asking questions, hearing responses, and then asking followup questions that show you care about your child and, further, that you care about the details of what they are experiencing and thinking–and you care about their sense of purpose. It is about subtly asking them questions that help them to develop into people with both resilience and integrity who are a blessing to their future families and communities. Research at Emory University has confirmed what we genealogists have known for years–that resilience and integrity come from a multigenerational family narrative. When parents and grandparents take the time to interact with children and share stories and do collective research through old diaries or genealogy, kids start to understand how their actions will also be woven into the family narrative for their children and grandchildren. Real family stories include times of trial and times of triumph–and they tell real stories of family members who got knocked down and got up again. Real stories include examples of great sacrifice by some individuals for future generations, and perhaps even stories of family members who squandered critical resources during a hedonistic phase of their lives. These are the stories that kids need to draw from to give them faith to pull through all the times when they will get knocked down. These are the stories they need to make choices that bring about the best possible ends in the long term rather than those that satisfy some proximate short term desire. These are the stories they need to know to understand why certain lifestyle choices are a “slippery slope.” Reflecting on family stories inevitably brings out questions, such as “would I have been able to do that?” and also helps us to deconstruct our habits and to forgive those older members of the family who habitually behave in a way that seems dysfunctional in today’s world. Not only are intergenerational riffs mended as young people understand their elders, but older folks, in remembering what it was like to be young, also begin to realize how senile their “back in my days kids didn’t blah blah blah” mantra sounds to the youth.

The whole process of sharing stories and weaving a family narrative takes time. In these self-imposed busy times, we rarely turn toward our children with our whole being. Instead of asking our children thoughtful questions that spark their imagination and inspire them to see themselves as a special link in the chain of Being, we provide them with commands and answers, thinking “this is a quicker alternative, given our busy lives.” This approach frequently backfires. Why?

The questions that we pass down to our children are always more important than any answers our particular generation has. That is because questions acknowledge the children of a younger generation as fully human–as capable of doing more than reciting dogma “line upon line, precept upon precept.” Questions recognize the importance of the developmental process. Questions nurture independence, while answers attempt to extend one generation’s locus of control into that which is rightfully another generation’s.

A true heritage is one which empowers independent and prudent thinking through passing down thoughtful questions. A false heritage is one which, although often motivated by good intentions, alienates a generation from the thinking skills it will need to solve its unique problems: In our ever changing world unique problems arise frequently.

That is why, ultimately, trueheritage.org does not endorse any particular dogma, but encourages members to read widely; to think for themselves; to ask their children thoughtful questions; and to answer their children’s questions with their whole being. Out of an authentic “I and Thou” intergenerational discourse, an empowering family narrative can arise that is the True Heritage and the birthright of all Homo sapiens sapiens. Of course, we could be wrong, so don’t take our word for it. Try it out for yourself and see if it makes a difference in your family’s life.

Why Isn’t It Easier?

One last caveat: constructing a family narrative is not going to be easy–primarily because there are forces out there that are actually trying to make it impossible for your family to create a coherent family narrative–they want to keep your children in the dark. It would be nice if everyone out there was rooting for your family and hoping it could develop a true heritage–and probably almost all people are. However, the most powerful forces in the world are not people who have a heart, but the leviathans we call institutions that are heartless. It is in the interests of many powerful institutions to keep your family as ignorant as possible of multigenerational meaning so as to keep them in a state of servitude. It is in some institutions’ best interests that you and your children and grandchildren make foolish decisions because they live off the sweat of your work. These institutions originally were put in place a long time ago to administer an important practice–spiritual, political, intellectual, financial, etc. As these institutions competed with one another for survival, the institutions with integrity went extinct in a struggle for existence against the more cut-throat institutions. These cut-throat institutions have continued to evolve ever more refined systems to keep themselves alive, generally by administering their practice with less and less integrity at the expense of those families and communities who their practice originally claimed to serve: Today’s religious institutions emphasize scare tactics and make all sorts of empty promises to keep the money coming; financial institutions give teenagers the ability to go into debt they can’t repay; corruption reigns among banking institutions; educational institutions practice Ponzi schemes of their own to keep the money coming in; political institutions crave more and more power and they have become the servant of institutions rather than people… To buttress themselves against legitimate criticism that their primary goals have changed from administering a practice to gaining power, institutions have found it in their best interest to neutralize those individuals who have the multigenerational memory to remember the orginal mission of the institution. They have set up systems to proximately reward those short sighted reactionary individuals who serve them and punish those who try to bring them back to their original mission. They have worked with other institutions to take down whistle blowers and non-conformists. They have active measures in place to drive a wedge between generations so as to keep younger generations ignorant of their tactics and how to prudently avoid falling victim to their traps. Some “active measures” used to subvert families and communities have been in place for thousands of years and can be found in ancient texts. Such geopolitical subversion is more directly discussed under our section titled Esoterica. There you will be able to learn how some sages throughout the millenia have attempted to do battle with institutions that try to keep people in the dark by destroying the human family narrative that is our true heritage.

“Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is diseased, your body is full of darkness.” Luke 11:34.

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