We are walking manifestations of our ancestors. They all did their time on earth to get you to where you are now. You are the collective versions of them; their physical DNA but also their behavioral makeup.
At a macro level, the human species has developed into walking creatures that have arms for holding weapons and gathering food. But under a more refined scope, many of our behaviors, beliefs, and talents can be seen from the last couple of generations before us.
How many times have you been told that you talk just like one of your parents or perhaps you walk like your grandfather?
Many of our behaviors are influenced by the environment our ancestors live in. Some families have been in the same location for many generations, and that place’s environment influences their actions. For example, in Colombia, many people say that “there is always mañana (tomorrow),” which means that things can always be done the next day. Fruits and vegetables grow year around, there are no time constraints, food will always be there.
In Ukraine, the harsh winters have historically forced people to preserve fruits and vegetables for the winter. The concept that “there is always mañana” does not work there. The end result of this is people walk faster on the streets there’s more of an urgency with the seasons.
But behaviors are not only influenced by our natural environments. Some behaviors are genetic memories that are passed on from generation to generation.
There was a famous study done involving rats and cherry blossoms. Rats are naturally attracted to cherry blossoms, and scientists conducted an experiment during which whenever a rat would go towards the origin of the cherry blossom scent, they would electrocute the animal. After about a few times, the rat finally learned that that smell brought pain, thus avoiding the cherry-blossom smell.
Interestingly, the rat pups and grandpups inherited the original rat’s same aversion to that cherry blossom scent. More interestingly this aversion was found in two subsequent generations of rats who inherited that fear of cherry blossoms despite never having been electrocuted themselves.
Extending this experiment’s logic, we humans inherit some of our aversions and attractions. It’s crazy to think that we may have a fear because our great grandmother may have developed that fear and it somehow exists within our current behavioral traits.
It makes sense. We can inherit the color of our eyes, our voice, our height, and our smile. I even inherited my mom’s bow-legged cowboy walk. Is it really such a stretch to have inherited our ancestors’ experiences as well?
I learned through my upbringing to smash through the process, whatever that process was. To get through it as quickly as possible; it wasn’t to be enjoyed. And it definitely wasn’t about the journey but the destination, but once the destination was reached a new destination immediately popped up and the cycle continued. I’ve theoretically learned in my adult years that a better-lived life is more about the moment. Rewiring that behavior inside of myself has taken a lot of work and is ongoing.
I don’t claim to be a scientist, behaviorist, genealogist or rat expert, but the older I get the more I believe this is exactly what happens; behaviors from generations before are operating us.
A couple of weeks ago I was in Italy. Outside of Naples was where part of my family was from before they emigrated to America.
The name Santaniello (spelling was changed to Santenello in NYC) can be seen on locksmiths, clothing stores, bakeries, etc. Not long ago my direct ancestors walked the same streets that I had walked on the trip, smelled the same salty ocean, and tasted the same kind of food that I did.
My ancestors, mere teenagers at the time, left Naples for America a little over 100 years ago with little life experience and no English language skills. But there I stood in 2019 where they once stood. It was surreal. What was even more fantastic was meeting some of the town’s residents; there was one man in particular who stood out.
This man I met, Biagio, is seventy-two years old, but his spirit is much younger. He’s owned the designer clothing store, Santaniello’s Clothing for over sixty years.
He donned clothes that matched his store’s high-end tastes—grey pressed trousers, a stylish silver watch, and a billowy, blue, tan, white, and yellow paisley scarf that stylishly came out of his navy sweater and brought his whole look together.
There was a connection with this man that I can’t quite explain. Somehow, we knew that we were distant relatives. Maybe it was our analogously sized foreheads. Maybe it was our noses or our jawlines. But more than that it was the behaviors…
As he showed me around his shop, I watched him move his hands. They were my father’s hands, and they moved in the same way as his. I can only explain the similarities by chalking them up to genetics and even genetic memories. Knowing that we came from the same bloodline is something I can’t objectively prove but it’s something I felt.
So where are you from? Do you know? Do you know two or three generations back? By discovering this information, you might be able to figure out why you do some of the things that you do. You may be able to observe and better understand some of the things that you like or dislike about yourself. You might be able to break habits that you unknowingly inherited and just seemed to come naturally and are operating on autopilot within you.
You are the end result of your ancestors. If you haven’t already, it’s worth scratching the surface of your past to know more about your present and future.
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