Monday, August 26, 2013

Defining an Accomplished Life

I recently read an interesting quote from New York Times columnist, Alina Tugend. The quote was, "We have such limited views of what we consider an accomplished life that we devalue many qualities that are critically important...one of the most important conversations we can have with our children is what we mean by success." 

The ellipsis, the "...", made me curious. That symbol means something was left out. Therefore, I took the time to find the article from which that quote was taken in order to read what was edited out. The quote came from an article Tugend wrote on June 29, 2012 called "Redefining Success and Celebrating the Ordinary" (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/30/your-money/redefining-success-and-celebrating-the-unremarkable.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0).

The article confronts the reality that just because children are told by their parents that they are amazing and exceptional it does not mean that they are; and in all likelihood, the world will not see them as such. Tugend quotes author and educator, Brené Brown, from Brown's book, "The Gifts of Imperfection." "In this world, an ordinary life has become synonymous with a meaningless life." Making a lot of money, having a fancy job title, making babies, being a star of some realm are all very narrow definitions of success. Brown questions, "What about being compassionate or living a life of integrity?" I ask, What about overcoming struggles?

What does this have to do with genealogy and digging up the "dirt" on my ancestors? Well..................

Genealogy is a way to show youth that the ordinary struggles of ordinary people are worthy of reverence.

The article goes on to discuss another article written in the Toronto Star about a woman, Shelagh Gordon, who had died of a brain aneurysm at the age of 55. The article was titled, "Shelagh was here — an ordinary, magical life." The Toronto Star then ran over 100 interviews with people who had been touched by the life of  Ms.Gordon. Obituaries, as the article points out, read a lot like resumes; list of the concrete actions one took in life. Ms. Gordon, however, did not live an extraordinary life; she was remembered by others for her kindness.

I don't have famous people in my family tree. Maybe a few of them in their days were noteworthy in their own communities; maybe a few had medals pinned upon their chests for valor, bravery, and honor; maybe their names made it into the newspaper for something admirable, although more often then not I find them on the police blotters. For the most part, though, my ancestors lead quiet, ordinary lives. 

Know that you are no less valuable a human for being ordinary; for having talents unrecognized by the masses; for surviving day-to-day without causing harm.

Humanity would suffer a world of good if we encouraged our children to aspire for something more than to impress on another. 

Tugend shares a great quote from David McCullough, Jr., "Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you."

But I will end my writing as Tugend ended hers, with a quote from George Eliot’s novel “Middlemarch;” which I have not read. "...that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs." 

Visit them.

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