When I was a child, my family next-to-never went on a real vacation… you know, like go somewhere far away to see something. I remember one time, though, in the late 1950s when we did.
We left Akron, Ohio and headed for Washington, D.C.
Along the way we stopped at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. We walked a little of the battlefield and saw the big Cyclorama painting of Pickett's Charge and then watched a movie. Later, we visited the museum store. As a remembrance, our mom bought us two little U.S. and Confederate flags.
A while after we returned home, our grandmother came to visit us. She ventured into our parents’ basement where my brother and I kept our stash of electric trains, model airplanes and assorted childhood treasures.
Almost as her foot touched the last step down into the basement she locked onto that little Confederate flag, grabbed it and threw it into the incinerator. Before my unbelieving eyes she ignited the flames and our precious vacation artifact went up in smoke.
I remember her saying something like, “You will not keep a rebel flag in your home.”
I didn’t understand why she felt so strongly as I watched her torch one of the only two vacation remembrances we had in our entire childhood.
Later I learned from other relatives that according to family lore one of our relatives had been killed at Gettysburg. He had served in a Pennsylvania cavalry unit.
Grandmother, who was born nearly 30 years after the American Civil War ended, carried the wounds of her forefathers into our time. She was compelled to give my brother and me a clear and strong lesson about who was on the right side and who was on the wrong side during a war which happened almost 100 years before we were born.
Don’t get me wrong, grandmother was not a bad person at all. I remember her as one of the kindest and most loving people in my life. Still, she did not hesitate to share her opinion about most anything, most especially about the important things in her life. And, I admire her for that, too.
Further, I’ll own up to the fact that, had I lived back then, I’d most likely have served the USA rather than the CSA, because I can not abide the idea of slavery of any kind — racial, sexual or financial.
So, here is my point: the vast majority of hatreds and fears which shackle us today have been taught to us by our forefathers. They have been passed down from generation to generation, and for the most part have not been personally experienced.
For centuries, politicians, dictators, monarchs, salespeople, educators, psychopaths, clergy and fundamentalists of all flavors have played upon the “passed down” fears of people. It has cost us dearly in untold loss of life and misery.
History is replete with examples. In fact it makes no difference which ethnicity, group, tribe or nationality one investigates, one will discover examples of “leaders” who have played the “fear card” to spark and stoke his or her followers toward violent and ultimately self-destructive acts against neighboring tribes or “others” who are racially different or practice a different religion. Or, worse, think differently.
As humans we all share a zillion fears of our own making, but for the most part they are relatively minor and not as destructive compared with those which are passed down. Among the most common fears are: not being good enough; missing out on something; failure; being alone; and, not being accepted.
If one has the will, the fears passed down from our ancestors and those we conjure up by ourselves can be overcome. One can find expert help, a multitude of programs and self-help books to discover the pathways to shed fears, hatreds and nightmares.
Why would one want to do that?
When we continue the fears of our ancestors we warp our own view of reality. The more we let someone else’s fears drive our lives, the more ordinary the warped view becomes. Over time we move further from reality, our choices become obscured, and we become less able to ferret out truth and consequences. Eventually, we find ourselves unable to make good choices and as a result, we relive the mistakes that our ancestors made. (1.)
1. Based upon: “Is Lying Bad for Us?”, The Atlantic, Richard Gunderman, MD, PhD, Feb 2013. “Perhaps the most powerful moral argument for honesty has to do with what the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre called ‘bad faith.’ Liars deceive others, but in a sense, liars also deceive themselves. When we lie we tend to distort our own view of reality, and the more often we lie, the more habitual this distortion becomes. Over time, the habit of lying divorces us further and further from reality, so we see less and less clearly the choices before us and what is at stake in them. Eventually, we may find ourselves unable to see what we are really doing and how it is affecting others and ourselves. We end up leading inauthentic and irresponsible lives.”