Lessons From Our Ancestors

 

 

In the previous series “The Day The World Stopped,” we discussed various eras and proposed questions to the reader regarding specific challenges of each era. Only a few eras were discussed with a very minimal set of challenges described. Many more challenges were considered for each post. However, in the interest of focus and length, a very narrow focus was determined for each article. Each of the modern eras would require an entire book to take an in-depth look at the challenges of each era.

 

Life In The Past

 

This brings us to the question “What can we learn from our ancestors?” A study of history shows us many different things. In some cases, they did things we applaud, but in other cases we disapprove of their behavior. We also know that their lifestyle was very different.

 

Many people in the past lived in conditions that we would not be able to tolerate today. Likewise, they ate food and drank water that we would consider inedible and undrinkable. They also had a different perspective on life. The behaviors of people today would be considered abhorrent to people of years gone by.

 

Perspective

 

Thus, as much as people find some of the behaviors of people in the past unacceptable, people of those eras would find behaviors of today equally unacceptable. This is something to really consider. Are people today really better? Are people today in a place to judge?

 

My argument would be that until we understand history and learn from it, we should not judge those who came before us. Each of them has a story and until we know enough to begin to understand their life, we cannot know their struggles or their joys. We need to understand the cultures of the past as well as the life of any individual that we are judging. Additionally, we need to judge on all merits not a single dimension that we deem bad.

 

Changes Through Time

 

Views on everything from marriage, families, work, social norms, slavery, war, and more have changed throughout time. Some of the changes one might say are because we have become more sophisticated and aware while other changes were a matter of necessity. We will take a brief look at a few examples.

 

Families

 

The family unit has changed dramatically over the course of history. If we limit the scope of discussion to the approximately 400 years since Europeans came to America, we will see drastic changes. For instance, many families years ago had a large number of children – partially out of necessity (e.g. children to work the farm) and partially because of limited forms of birth control. Today, the average number of children per family is small with many people having no children.

 

If we look at households, we will find many more single parent households today than 150 years ago. In part, people in the past were much more likely to marry if a woman became pregnant than they are today. Secondly, men needed women to cook, clean, and care for children while they worked and women needed a man to provide for her and the children. Thus, many marriages were a matter of convenience and not love.

 

Another major shift is that elders today typically live on their own or in some type of senior living. Years ago, they would live with their children. If they had no children, a younger sibling, niece, nephew, or neighbor often helped care for them. Facilities still existed, but they were mostly for people who required help their families could not provide.

 

Slavery

 

When people think of slavery, a lot of them think of early America. Slavery, however, has existed throughout recorded time and has existed in various forms.

 

If we look at slavery in America, it varied widely. Slavery, thought of as restricted to the southern states actually existed in the northern states for a period of time. Even in the South, the number of slaves and percentage of people owning slaves varied from area to area. In 1860, one source states that 75% of white Americans owned no slaves; however, this was across all states. The story is very different if you focus on the southern states.*

 

Plantation owners with lots of slaves were likely to treat slaves as we perceive slave life. ** However, families that had a handful of slaves treated them in a variety of different ways. Some were treated no different than those on plantations. However, others were treated more humanely. I have personally seen a will that provided financial support for an elderly slave for the remainder of her life. In another will, land was designated to become the property of the head of a slave family if the laws at the time of the person’s death allowed him to own property. If not, the family was to be allowed to continue living there indefinitely.

 

There were other groups, such as, the Quakers that strongly believed slavery was wrong. Some of these people actually became slave owners to keep the slaves from being treated poorly and as a means to free them. Thus, when you find out that someone was a slave owner, you really need to ask the question, “What kind of a slave owner was he?” Knowing the person owned slaves is not enough to determine the person’s character or behavior. In those days, there were many different perceptions and practices when it came to slavery.

 

War

 

The last example is the view on war. It seems nations, clans, regions, etc. have always been at war with each other. Conflict appears to be part of human nature and the various cultures around the world. Yet, the view on war has changed over time.

If we consider the Revolutionary War, most people in America considered it a necessity to gain independence. Even the Quakers, who technically did not support war, found ways at times to provide support to the men who were fighting for independence.

 

Revolutionary War soldiers were considered heroes; hence, the creation of Sons of the American Revolution and Daughters of the American Revolution. Soldiers who fought for the Union in the Civil War were also treated with great respect. Later, after WWII, the soldiers and the people of the time were referred to as the greatest generation.

 

After that, however, Americans view of war began to break down with those who served in Vietnam being treated awful by the public. People failed to see that those who served were simply doing the job their country requested of them. Instead, they saw the service members themselves as bad.

 

Today, people appear split, often along political lines, in their support for the latest conflict and for our service men and women.

 

A New Perspective

 

With these examples, you can see that views and perspectives have changed over time. Sometimes the changes have been for the better, but have they always been for the better? And, how many things really haven’t changed, but we simply perceive that they have.

 

The next time you find yourself beginning to judge a group of people of the past, a specific ancestor that may have committed a crime or lived a less than stellar lifestyle, or even someone in your life today, stop. Instead of judging, ask yourself, what do I really know about their life and the choices that the person/group may or may not have faced.

 

I highly recommend that you research and learn about the people and the era. For situations since the time print has existed, I recommend books and newspapers from the era as a source of understanding. Books and articles written later have a perspective of people of that time on the past and are less accurate at conveying the real situation. Research often gives you a much better understanding of the person and the perspective of the times.

 

If the person is someone in your life today, research by talking with the person and truly seeking to understand. Whether, in the past or present, truly trying to understand someone else, their culture, and the issues in their life is a great way to expand your awareness. You may even find your life changed because of it!

 

 

*https://www.theroot.com/slavery-by-the-numbers-1790874492

** 31% of slaves in 1860 were on plantations according to https://www.theroot.com/slavery-by-the-numbers-1790874492

 

 

connecting to students

 

 

When I was in high school, I was lucky to have a young math teacher who loved math, loved teaching, and was very dedicated to his job. He was exceptional and it showed in the results at math competitions. We competed at several competitions each year, including one large competition where 60 or more schools competed.

 

The school’s success was reflected in the comments of students and faculty from other schools. On multiple occasions students from other schools made comments, such as, “I was hoping you guys wouldn’t be here” or simply shook their head and said, “Oh, no!” I remember one time when someone asked me how kids from my school were so good at math. I simply pointed to our teacher.

 

After All These Years

 

Years later when several people in my class connected on Facebook, math and this particular teacher came up in discussion. Everyone remembered him well. He wasn’t the easiest teacher. He gave plenty of homework and didn’t let people get away with anything in his class. But, he was remembered and a beloved teacher. I have never heard anyone from my high school speak of any other teacher the same way.

 

Retiring!

 

This month, he is retiring after teaching for 50 years at my high school. He has won many competitions for the school (over 100 first place finishes per fortscott.biz). However, this is a minor contribution to the community compared to his other contributions. Numerous of his students have followed in his footsteps and become math teachers themselves. Other students, like me, majored in math, but went down other career paths. And, others report being successful in college math classes because of their strong math background.

 

Connecting To Students

 

Still, I believe his greatest contribution as a teacher is simply connecting with his students. None of the above accomplishments would have been possible without that connection. It is that connection that has people remembering him so fondly so many years later. Somehow he was able to relate to the students, remain in control, and get kids to understand math – all at the same time.

 

P.S. Happy Retirement, Mr. Shinn!

 

 

 

 

In our previous blog post Connecting the Dots, we talked about how people are constantly connecting information and creating new understanding. Despite doing this people often rely on habit or minimal information in making decisions.

 

For instance, when a person is in the habit of buying a certain product, they likely don’t give the choice a second thought. The person just grabs the product from the shelf as they hurry through the store. Experience and the pathways ingrained in the person’s brain often results in the person ignoring other similar products.

 

In cases where a person hasn’t created a habit of purchasing a specific item, they may compare prices or check packaging details before selecting an item. They are consciously making a decision about the product. However, they are only considering the limited information that is in front of them.

 

When it comes to large purchases, however, people are more likely to do more extensive research. Before a person buys a vehicle, they may talk to friends and family to find out their experience. The person may also check Consumer Report or other guides.  They may review the  cost to purchase and the expected maintenance cost. The person attempts to do due diligence due to the amount of money involved.  They want to ensure that they make an informed decision.

 

When a person attempts to take a wide variety of factors into account over the lifetime of the product, they are trying to define the total cost of ownership for the item. For example, the vehicle with the cheapest purchase price may not cost the least amount of money in the long-term.

 

In addition, many costs and benefits of  buying decisions are not financial in nature. For instance, a buyer may see value in selecting one vehicle over another for the purpose of portraying a certain image.

 

Hidden or unconsciously ignored costs also come into play. A hidden cost arises when a person doesn’t realize that a shirt that they they are purchasing was made in a factory where people are mistreated. By purchasing the shirt, which may be beautiful and cost effective to purchase, the person inadvertently supports this factory. Thus, the cost is that they unknowingly support something they may strongly oppose.

 

On the surface, the decision on many things may appear to be obvious. It may seem to provide the benefits the person wants for themselves and the world. Yet, if they knew all the underlying information, they might make a different decision.

 

In other cases, the person may support the idea because it sounds like it aligns with their goals even though there is known evidence to the contrary. Most people will deny that they ever do that, but the reality is that all people do that. People pick and choose the experts and reports that they believe based on what they want to be true. The filtering of facts is driven by a person’s existing beliefs and experiences.

 

Therefore, most decisions, no matter how small aren’t what they really seem on the surface. The decisions are connected to other people and actions around the world. Therefore, even when a person tries to look at the total cost and benefit of a decision,  they rarely consider all the facts.

 

Thus, even with the most careful consideration and the best of intentions, people often make flawed decisions. This is why it is important to continually reassess decisions. If a person has already driven the car off the lot, taking it back and trading for a different model may not be practical. The person may have to wait until they are ready to sell the car to make a change. However, it can be applied immediately in other areas of life.

 

If a person learns new information that contradicts their beliefs or views on specific aspects of a relationship, political ideology, religion, or work, they can often make changes immediately. The key is to be willing to look beyond the surface.  A person has to be willing to question even their own beliefs. As long as a person stays on autopilot and looks only at the very surface, they will never understand the actual impact of their decisions.

 

The best thing a person can do is to challenge their own analysis. By doing so, they may discover hidden assumptions based on outdated or incorrect connections that they have built over the years.   In awakening to their subjective thought process, they will hopefully become more open to other perspectives on the world and become more understanding of others. This understanding is key to making better decisions for oneself and the world!

 

 

 

 

Have you ever studied for a test and felt prepared only to have your mind seem blank when the test was in front of you? If it hasn’t happened to you, you are one of the lucky few that haven’t had this experience.

 

Multiple things can contribute to such and occurrence. However, the way the information is connected in your brain is often a significant contributor to the mind going blank.

 

Often, this occurs because of the environment in which a person studies. The person may have sprawled out on their bed, put on their headphones, and listened to music while they studied. This helped them tune out the world around them and focus on the information that they were studying. They may have reviewed the materials for class and studied until they dropped.  By the time they finished, the person may have been confident that they would land a high score on the test.

 

The next day they sat down at their desk confident that they were well prepared. However, when they looked down at the test, panic set in. They felt confused as everything on the test looked like a foreign language.   “How could this happen?” the person asked themselves. After all, they had studied for hours and thought they had everything memorized.

 

The issue in this situation likely arose because of the drastic change in environment from a comfortable relaxed situation with music to a silent environment sitting in a hard uncomfortable chair. The pathways to the studied information were new and fragile. They had not been reinforced enough times in various situations to truly imprint and create strong connections. Therefore, they were difficult to retrieve in a different setting.

 

At this point, the situation often worsens because anxiety sets in further hindering recall. By the end of class, the person who studied and began the day with confidence in their ability to do well on the test may be worrying if they will receive a passing grade.

 

This story is only one sample of the many reasons that a person may not recall information in a particular situation. Our memories are held within a very complex, intertwined system of connections. Therefore, recall can be sensitive to a variety of factors. Fortunately, we have established multiple ways to access much of the information allowing us to retrieve the information in various situations.

 

The next time you are having difficulty retrieving some piece of information – a name, how to do some task, or where you left your car keys – try remembering the context of when, where, and how you learned or last knew that information. You just might find that you can access that information after all!

 

 

 

 

When I was young, I enjoyed “Connect the Dots” pictures. When you connected the dots, which had a number or letter next to them, in correct numerical or alphabetical order, an image would appear.  You could then color the image.  “Connect the Dots” images continue to be used  today as a learning tool. 

 

“Connect the Dots” for young children generally are simple with part of the image already drawn. Having a portion of the image visible assists the child in seeing the connections that they needed to make. In contrast, “Connect the Dots” for older children are sometimes quite abstract. In this case,  the picture only comes into focus as the dots are connected.

 

I am not sure who originally created “Connect the Dot” pictures. However, it appears the originator created them as a game to make learning fun. Yet, they are more representative of how humans think than the creator probably realized.

 

Human beings are constantly connecting the dots. One of the earliest connections that children likely make is that if they cry, someone will feed them or change their diaper. As children grow and develop more advanced thinking, the connections they create become more complex.  By the time people reach adulthood, connecting the dots is so ingrained in their brains that they do it thousands, if not millions, of times per day.

 

An individual’s truths, beliefs, and perspectives develop over time through a series of connections and observations.   In turn, all of these factors combine and recombine to create new connections, conclusions, and perspectives.

 

Conclusions and generalizations occur when connections are made  a path of connections is followed repeatedly.  When a connection occurs enough times, it becomes  an unconscious automatic connection or path. On one hand, this is a great benefit.  Without automatic connections,  humans would be continually relearning information and reassessing situations. The ability to build upon prior connections and paths allows learning and achievement that would otherwise be impossible. On the other hand, it is these very connections and pathways that can lead to gross generalizations and invalid conclusions.

 

Unconscious connections and pathways are like deep ruts that were created when the wagon trains went over the Oregon Trail.  Once a person’s thinking or a wagon’s wheels are in a rut, it is nearly impossible to adjust course.  Information may only be a few steps away, but still be completely unattainable.  It might as well be on the other side of the mountain because there is no way to venture over to it to check it out.

 

Reinforced pathways is the primary  reason that people tend to become stuck in their ways as they age. Unless a person is continually looking at information from different perspectives, they will have difficulty trying a new path because the old paths are too strong. This is why it is so very important for people of all ages to continually learn new things and to challenge their own thinking.

 

A good indicator that it is time for a person to infuse themselves with new ideas is when they  find themselves saying, “But, that’s the way it has always been done.”  Likewise, it is time for a person to consider if the other  has a point if they automatically reject any idea that doesn’t align with their beliefs, thoughts, or perspectives.

 

It is so important that people of all ages continually infuse new ideas into their thinking.  Those ideas challenge previous ideas, beliefs, and perspectives, allowing people to make new creations by connecting the dots differently. The challenge is to keep changing the picture!