Here is a quick yes/no quiz which will reveal important information about your personality:
- Do you occasionally make thoughtless remarks which you later regret?
- Are you usually concerned about the need to protect your health?
- Is it normally hard for you to own up and take the blame?
- Do you sometimes resent the efforts of others to tell you what to do?
- Do your past failures sometimes worry you?
- Do you have a small circle of friends rather than a large number of acquaintances?
- Do you sometimes find it difficult to express your emotions?
- Would the idea of making a complete new start cause you any concern?
- Do you find it challenging to ‘start the ball rolling’ at social gatherings?
- Do you ever find yourself wondering if anyone really cares about you?
- Are there any things about yourself on which you are a bit touchy?
- Do you sometimes put off doing things and then discover it is too late?
- Do you ever feel that your age is against you (too young or too old)?
Finished? Now, how many times did you answer ‘yes’? More than 3? More than 8? What! You answered ‘yes’ to more than 10 of the questions? Well, then you clearly need to purchase our special program for social stragglers available at a special price of only $10,000. (Just joking) The above questions came from a Scientology questionnaire but they resemble the questions often crafted by hucksters of all kinds trying to prey on our all too human weaknesses.
It is of course easy to come up with questions that most people will identify with and to which they will nod their heads affirmatively. Here is another good one:
Do you feel that many of your problems were caused by your parents?
There are armies of therapists, analysts and psychologists making enviably lavish livings doing nothing but listening to their clients complain about how their parents ruined their lives. Often, they encourage their clients in those beliefs.
Of course, our parents provided our DNA but it is equally true that they provided us with much more than our eye color and other biological realities. They provided us with the start of our value system and certain character traits. This is why we sometimes catch ourselves talking to our children in the same words that our parents used with us many years ago.
They almost certainly bequeathed us some negative characteristics against which we must struggle. They also gave us much of our talent and our inbuilt aptitudes. Are our lives impacted by our parents and how they raised us? Of course, hugely. Are we therefore condemned to relive our parents’ mistakes and passively endure any negative circumstances of our birth and upbringing? Of course not. Consider Abraham.
…originally your ancestors lived across the river;
Terach was the father of Abraham, and of Nachor;
and they served other gods…
Abraham’s father was an idolater which helps us understand why God told Abraham:
Go away from your land, your relatives,
and your father’s house to a land that I’ll show you.
Just as Abraham was not condemned by his parental background to follow into the worship of idols, neither are we forced to do anything because of our own parental background.
Because real life is complex and often messy, there are subtleties beneath the surface. See these verses:
These are the chronicles of Terach; Terach gave birth to Abram, Nachor,
and Charan, and Charan gave birth to Lot.
Terach took his son Abram, and Lot, the son of Charan, his grandson,
and his daughter-in-law Sarai the wife of Abram his son,
and they departed together from Ur Kasdim to go to the land of Canaan;
and they arrived in Charan and they settled there.
Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that late in life Terach renounced idolatry and commenced a spiritual odyssey. He removed his family from an area with bad influences but never made it to his intended destination of Canaan. Nonetheless, his effort bequeathed to his son, Abram, the ability to more willingly make a change in life.
Thus, when God eventually told Abraham to leave his family and start his own journey, Abraham was primed to do so, partially because he had seen his father doing the same thing. Efforts and changes we institute in our lives, even if they fail or are only incremental, can propel our descendants in the right direction.
Obviously our parents impact our lives. If we were fortunate in the ovarian lottery then most of the impact from our parents is for good. However, even in those cases, there are also inevitably some destructive elements in our legacies. Like Abraham, we each must grab the power to shape our own destinies. We should vehemently reject the notion that we are helpless victims of our parents’ biology or mistakes. Most importantly, we should shoulder the responsibility of gifting our children with the strongest foundation we can give them.
On the television show that Susan and I enjoy hosting we often let down our hair a little, as it were. We get a bit personal, sometimes talking about our parents and extended family. We lovingly smile at memories, even some mixed ones, and we hope that in time, our own children will do the same. Were some things in our lives more challenging because of our parents? Of course. Many more things were made possible by those same parents. They did their best for us, just as we hope we shall be seen to have done for our children.