Why DO personal histories matter? Why is the recording of somebody’s life – their stories, what they know about generations past, the things they’ve learned along the way – why is it important to write any of this stuff down? Why is it important to share it?
And it does matter. It matters to me as my Grandma gets older and I start to think about what might be lost when she goes if we don’t record her. It matters to the adult children who scramble to get something done when Dad takes a turn for the worse and to the people who are overcome with emotion and cry when their personal historian delivers their heirloom book. I don’t think there’s any debating that it matters.
But why? It’s a question so basic that I get the sense it doesn’t get asked very often. Sort of like asking why water is wet. It just is, so let’s leave it at that and move on.
But I have a hunch – and to be honest, it’s just that at this point as I’ve not got this figured very far through – that truly understanding the deepest, most fundamental reasons why this matters to people will be interesting and valuable.
I’ve been interviewing people who are interested in the idea of personal histories and who probably look a lot like people who have actually paid to have their stories done. In those interviews I’ve been asking this question and digging as deep as they will let me. A typical conversation goes about like this….
“Why do you think recording your life story is important? Why do you think you might want to do it?”
“Well, to save the stories.””
OK, but why? Why do you want to save your stories?”
“Because I want my grandkids and their kids to know the family stories.”
“Right, but why do you think that’s important? Why do you want to spend a bunch of time and money to do that, to accomplish that task?”
“Well….because I want to connect the generations. I want my descendants to feel connected to me and the rest of their ancestors.”
“OK, now we’re getting somewhere. Why do you want to connect the generations of your family? Why do you want your grandkids to feel connected to their grandparents and great grandparents and maybe even further back? Why is that connection important?…..”
And it gets to be a really difficult question to answer. It’s so tempting and so easy to fall back on “Well because I just do.” Why is it important? “Well it just is.” But I think there is something deeper. I really do. And if we don’t go deeper, then we’re missing the opportunity.
I have my guess. I’m not at all sure I’m right, but I feel pretty good about it. At the very least I think it’s a good start. I think there are two fundamental reasons why saving and sharing our life stories matters to us humans.
We want – fundamentally, innately, desperately in a very primal way – to belong.
We want to be a part of a community. We want to be not alone. We want to be accepted and loved and cared for and about. Life can be lonely and scary, but it can be a lot less so when, by knowing our family through the stories, we see ourselves not as “I”, but rather as “a part of us”.
When we see that Great Grandma had the same nose as we do and Grandpa liked photography just like us, we feel a part of the community that is our family. We feel validated and comforted and confident and brave.
When our Adventure here on earth is over, we want to leave a legacy.
If we are lucky enough to approach the end of our lives slowly enough to see it coming, we search for a way to live on after we pass. For something we can do that will have an enduring impact on the world, no matter how small.
For many people their best option is to share their story, and by doing so to give to their descendants the lasting gift of belonging.
I obviously think this is a big deal, but that’s just me. What about you? Is there any value in doing the hard work to deeply understand the emotional, psychological or intellectual reasons why saving and sharing life stories is so important to people? What about the two reasons I’ve offered – agree or disagree? I’m interested in what you think. Please share in a comment.
And remember, when you are ready to record the story of your Adventure, I’m here to help you. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cheers… – Shaun