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The More History Matters

A group of baby boomers attended a Smart Transitions retreat I was leading a few months ago. One participant, a newly appointed CEO, told us about moving the company headquarters to a new location. During the move they found a dented filing cabinet filled with project drawings and photos, as well as some tattered journals from the firms’ founders . The documents were dated in the 1950’s. He said he looked through the old stuff and had decided to do away with all of it as part of his transition.

When I heard his plan I remembered a New York Times article I’d read entitled, “The Stories that Bind Us”. The origin of this news article was in early 2000 when a learning disability specialist, Sarah, who had worked with children for many years made an observation: the students who knew a lot about their families tended to do better when they faced challenges.

Do You Know?
Intrigued by her hypothesis , her husband and a colleague from Emory University developed a measure called the “Do you know? Scales”. This survey asked children to answer 20 questions about the background and events in the lives of their parents and grandparents. The questions were posed to children in 48 different families and then compared to their results with a battery of psychological tests. The team reached the overwhelming conclusion that Sarah’s theory was correct: the more children know about their family’s history the stronger their sense of control of their lives, the higher their self-esteem, the more successfully they believe their families functioned.

Researchers reassess the children after the traumatic events of September 11, 2001. Once again they found the ones who knew more about their family proved to be more resilient. The lead researcher said that children who have the most self-confidence have what he and the other researchers called a strong intergenerational self. That is they know they belong to something bigger than themselves.

Leaders in the military and in business found similar results. Jim Collins, famous business author, says that successful human enterprises of any kind always take time to look back and capture their core identity. The U.S. Air force found that having new recruits experience history appreciation exercises, such as visiting a cemetery to pay tribute to the first Naval aviator or visiting B-1 replicas, increased their camaraderie and improving retention.

The Bottom Line
If you want a healthier and happier family, troop or company ; create, refine, and retell the stories of your best moments and the ability to bounce back from difficult ones. That act alone may increase the odds that your domestic or corporate organization will thrive for many generations to come.

After I shared this story with the retreat group, the new CEO considered that there might be some use for the old box of photos and journals.

Journal Entry: Consider the gifts are you giving the children in your life this Christmas season. How long will those things last? Would this year be a good time to share a family history story that brings with it the possibility of strengthening a young spirit to meet and beat the challenges he or she will certainly face in their future leadership and life?


“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” – Confucius

Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.”   – Albert Einstein

A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history. – Mahatma Gandhi

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. – Isaiah 9:6

And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. And the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths, and lying in a manger.” – Luke 2:9-12

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