“We are built . . . to belong to one another”
Humans have the unique “ability to think about, imagine, and plan for the future”, not only for self but for others as well. This “separates us from all other living creatures.” So says Amy Harris in her speech to Brigham Young University, 2017.
She writes” . . . the ability to act cooperatively . . . is one of the greatest achievements of humanity” and “. . . that we are literally built to cooperate with others — not just with those we know or are related to but with innumerable strangers”. “We are built . . . to belong to one another”.
Thinking of how the past, present and future are related is called “transgenerational thinking” as termed by Ari Wallach in a recent TED talk. Wallach says this type of thinking goes “beyond one’s own comfort and considers how actions ripple into the future, long beyond an individual lifespan.”
This leads to a new type of awareness Harris calls “genealogical consciousness”. It “means seeing how past, present and future are connected –again not in an abstract sense but in the lived reality of actual thinking and feeling people–and how they and we are connected over time and space.”
In searching for and thinking about our ancestors, we may find a certain “anchor of identity” for ourselves, a feeling of having roots. “But on its own, the search for identity can bring only partial belonging.” We need genealogical consciousness with it’s “empathetic wisdom that knowledge alone cannot possess.” If our personal identity is based solely on our own family tree, we open the door to elitist and racist claims, which can easily “slip into tribalism, eugenics, racism, rabid isolationist nationalism, and us-versus-them-ism” whether they are based in race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, DNA, nationality, or any other category. Genealogical consciousness, on the other hand, doesn’t just avoid these pitfalls; it prevents them. It has the power to obliterate them, to completely dissolve the destructive boundaries between us and them, to starkly remind us that there is no ‘them’ and that there is only ‘us’ and to pull people together despite differences.”
If we take the past seriously, we will look upon those who came before us with compassion and love, with warmth and wisdom, looking to learn from them and include them in our circle of understanding. To recognize that ” . . . developing genealogical consciousness makes heavy demands: it demands that we act more compassionately and more Christlike. . It holds a promise to erode racism and sexism; to reduce to rubble centuries of hatred and discrimination; to bind us together . . . to take our instinct to belong, shatter its tribal proclivities, and replace them with inclinations to Zion.”
Read Amy’s full address, Of Dead Cats and Dead People: How Family History Can Save the World.