By Arline Rowden ©
Did you ever notice that when confronted with information that disagrees with what you already think about something, you try to just dismiss it without really considering it? Or you might experience some confusion or even fear as you consider integrating it into your accepted ideas. Does it seem like there’s a part of you that just doesn’t want to go through the work of rethinking what you already believe and updating those ideas? Or are you afraid of the change that could happen if you look at things differently? Does it seem like it’s especially difficult if other people who are close to you have decided that it’s not a good idea to rethink things too much or think for yourself?
We’ve probably all been exposed to stories about changes in accepted information in school or other places. We know that at one time the accepted belief was that the earth was flat and if we wandered too far we would drop off the edge. And then it was discovered, by some people who were brave enough to risk dropping off the edge of the earth, that the earth is round. But there were probably many people, at that time, who would not believe another person’s experience and still believed the earth was flat. In current times, when we started to see pictures of the earth from space, it was probably considered proof for most of us that the earth is round. That is unless we believe those pictures, like the ones supposedly taken on the moon, are fakes. But that’s another story.
Most of us resist change, fear it or are confused by it. I remember when the first satellites were orbiting the earth; my father was having a hard time understanding the concept of orbits. He was born in a log cabin, in 1905, and had experienced a lot of change in his 90 years of life. When he was growing up cars were not common. He told me of times when he was a young boy of seeing Native Americans ride on horseback across the farm. So satellites orbiting earth was quite a stretch for him.
A very personal challenge has come up for me recently around a change of attitude. In the last few weeks, I have been reading a family genealogy book about my father’s paternal family history. My paternal grandfather died when I was 6 years old and I don’t remember much about him. I have relied on stories that some of my older sisters have told me. Now my father had quite a temper but my sisters said that it was nothing in comparison to his father, our Grandpa K.
I do remember some things about my paternal grandmother who died when I was 7. She was such a sweet person and loved her grandchildren. The only time I ever saw my father cry, when I was growing up, was when he heard the news that his mother had passed away. I’ve been told that Grandma K. had debilitating headaches and had to go to bed for days at a time. I don’t remember if my sisters felt they were “caused” by my grandfather or if I made that up. But we definitely didn’t have a great opinion of Grandpa K.
I knew that Grandpa K. had a saw mill and would be away from home most of the week and just come home on the weekend. I found out that he would write letters to Grandma K. There were some letters in the family history from Grandpa to Grandma. They were really sweet. It was hard to imagine he had written them and that he missed his wife and children. It was rather jolting to my concept of him. This new info did not fit into my story about him.
Then I also read about how he would only cut down mature trees and not clear cut as most lumber companies were doing. Wow, he was green before the concept was popular. I wondered, was he actually a caring person? It was also noted that when social security was started he made sure that his employees participated in the program. There were other stories about how he helped others in the community, etc.
Now I know that people are a mixture of positive and negative traits, so I shouldn’t have been so surprised by this new information. But it messed with the concept of my Grandpa K. that I’ve held all my life. And I was surprised at the resistance I felt about changing my attitude about him.
As I pondered all of this, I thought about all the process work I’ve done in the last few months about my father and my relationship with him. I could remember times when I felt his love for me and at times his temper would flare and he would hit me. Any child, especially a sensitive child, would have trouble making sense of that.
My mother also had a temper and would physically discipline my sisters and me. At least that’s what they called it back then. Now it would be considered child abuse. But as a sensitive child, I felt it was abusive. My relationship with my mother was complicated, too, but in a different way. I always felt she loved me but didn’t really like me. I worked on making sense of that for years before I could put it to rest.
I knew my maternal grandparents quite well. Grandpa R. was an alcoholic and Grandma R. was not a sweet little grandma. They had their wounds, too, that they passed on to my mother. They were divorced when my mother was 16 and at a time when divorce was not common.
There’s a part of me that realizes that my parents had a lot of wounds and issues and what they did to me didn’t have a lot to do with me. It was their own pain that took over when they were stressed and they would strike out at any of their children who were in the vicinity when they reached a breaking point. They didn’t have the opportunities that I have had to work on healing my wounds and learning to see life differently. They didn’t have the tools that I have had to deal with stress and understand my feelings.
I’m sure I’m not alone in having the challenge of changing a long held attitude. I’ve learned over the years that when I share about my challenges in life that many others can relate to them. It helps us overcome feelings of isolation. Being abused in any way often brings up feelings of shame and self-esteem issues. We may feel that we weren’t deserving of being treated well, that there was something wrong with us. We turn it all inward and can’t see that the person who abused us was the one with the problem and in need of help. All of this takes time and a change of attitude to give us the opportunity to heal.
Some of my family members and I jokingly refer to the negative family traits as our family values. But they are not so funny and I personally would like to see them stopped and not handed down to future generations. In my opinion, the only way that will happen is if we look at them so the healing can begin. I’m more open now to a change of attitude and being open to a new way of thinking about my Grandpa K. and my K. family.