There is a lot of dialogue going on concerning ancestry and whether or not any one of us should look back and be proud of who the people were that set the stage for where we are today. There are fingers being pointed from every side and words being thrown about condemning people for who they are and where their ancestors came from. Deep down I know this vitriol is something that every society has to deal with.
It doesn’t matter if you live in the United States, in Pakistan, in France, or in China, someone, somewhere, is not going to like you based on what their eyes see rather than what their heart can know.
I myself, just like many others, have at one time or another been made fun of or was pointed out for questionable ancestry. Many of my family members have gone through that as well.
The answer that I have come up with is that no matter where we come from and no matter what the history of our family may be, we should all be proud of those, who at the time sacrificed themselves, while thinking they were doing the right thing in order to secure their legacy.
Now, no matter who we are, we all have that one ancestor, that one uncle, cousin, great-great grand relative, that no one likes to talk about. He or she is either the butt of jokes, whispers, or even downright shame. There are a couple of people in the past of my family that still cause family members pause when their names are mentioned. If anything, these people are examples of what not to do and still teach us a valuable lesson.
The best thing one can do while seeking a positive foundation in one’s life is to look back and take a real interest in one’s own history. What makes you you? What happened in the past that lead to the creation of you? Who do you admire? What culture did you come from? What accomplishments of theirs are you proud of?
It is only through the exploration of one’s self that we find all these little beautiful things that make us up. It’s like walking a beach looking for sea shells and finding beautiful tiny rocks that look like gems kissed by the ocean.
Our ancestors did not have it as easy as we did. Some worked in sweat shops like my aunts and uncles. Some were sailors who hunted whales around the globe and who were exposed to the elements on a daily basis. Some were brought to their new country against their will and enslaved. Some had to fight in horrible wars or lived through incredible famine.
Our ancestors did not have medicine like we do. They did not have fast food or central air conditioning. Traveling to the next town over sometimes took an entire day and some trips took weeks or months.
Our ancestors education was limited. Even if they went to university, some of what they were learning was just a fraction of what they teach today. Food standards were minimal. Water standards were non-existant. Diseases that we don’t even think about today were terrifying back then because catching something fatal was a distinct possibility. High infant mortality and dying in child birth were very real.
Through all of that, there is something in common that all of our ancestors wanted to accomplish. They wanted to be remembered. Not in the strict sense that we would know them by name, but by the efforts they put in to provide the foundation that led to you being born, which, statistically, is an incredible thing in itself!
Our ancestors invented processes in manufacturing. They succeeded in business. They built bridges, towns, churches and sky scrapers. They cut marble. They dug holes so deep into the ground in order to pull something out that to get down there to work took what seemed like hours.
They sewed dresses. They cooked food. They ran hotels and tilled the earth. They raised animals. They rode on horseback to deliver mail. They raised children they hoped would be better than they thought they were. They created peace between those who had taken up arms, but now were willing to sit down and talk.
Our ancestors constructed monuments. They erected towers made of glass and steel or of stone. They were people who wanted to leave behind something that those who came after them could appreciate. Today we stand in awe of the sheer magnitude of the engineering it took to make some of the immense structures that cover our planet. How did they manage to build what they did?
They went to church, or temple, or their mosque and thanked God or their gods for another day that they were able to provide for themselves and their families. They wished for the strength that tomorrow they would be able to do a little more.
None of our ancestors were perfect. They had flaws. They drank too much. They cursed. They sometimes had to do things to survive that you and I are shocked to hear. Some lived in poverty. Some were wealthy. Both, no matter if they had money or not, were human. Humans make mistakes, but we also have our redeeming qualities that others can look up to.
Take a look at your ancestry from a general standpoint and look back really far. Go all the way back to the Roman Empire or the Han Dynasty. What did they produce that contributed to mankind? What makes you feel good about them? How does that make you feel about yourself?
Now take a look at at a relative from the past that you admire. Why do you look up to them? How have you fashioned your life by their influence? What part of them have you made part of you?
My ancestors were part of the Roman Empire. I am astounded by their feats of engineering. My wife’s ancestors were Inca. They were using mathematics to build things that even today we find impossible.
One of my ancestors that I hold in high regard is my great grandfather who I’ve written about in a past article. He taught me about integrity and surviving hardship. I have aunts and uncles that taught me about working hard to provide for one’s family.
Both perspectives of the far and the recent past give me a sense of pride that provides a positive mental attitude I carry with me throughout the day. I focus on these things even when I encounter those who choose to criticize and condemn me for whatever reason they might have to do so.
I stand upon the shoulders of my ancestors. Their memory lifts me up. They pass on the spirit of fortitude and the strength of their memory emboldens me to try a little bit harder every day. It allows me to weather the storm and to overcome the obstacles that I face on a daily basis. It is because of their sacrifices that the foundation of my existence supports me even through the darkest of times. I think of them and know if they did it, so can I.
Your ancestors are there for you too. Their legacy has been passed down to you so that you now can build upon it and gain strength from it.
During your day think of them. Think of what they would say. Think of what they have done. Reach back and fill yourself with the spirit and pride of where you come from and use that to propel you into a more productive and positive person. Use it to not only help yourself, but to also help others.
Be proud of who you are and hold your head high knowing that you are the next in line to pass the torch. Tomorrow you will be someone’s ancestor. Do something that they will look back and reflect on why they would want to be like you. Be an example so that one day they may feel that their ancestors are also the foundation of their future.