Sunday, October 14, 2012

Traces Left Behind / Finding the Right Track

A happy "little" at Big Brothers Big Sisters' annual picnic

We pass down so much more to our children than just genetic makeup like eye or hair color. We also pass on habits, modes of being, and even ways of viewing the world.

The term “transgenerational inheritance” means we literally pass on our burdens biologically. Studies show that a trauma survivor (like a Holocaust survivor for example) has a greater probability of passing on a gene mutation that inhibits serotonin production. Serotonin is a hormone popularly associated with happiness, and an imbalance could lead to depression. It may be hard to believe, but even symptoms of PTSD are inheritable.

Children are so impressionable. Character traits are inheritable too. Ever notice how children are sponges to glances, gestures, and words? They most likely don't understand the complex reasons behind it, but they still mimic the behavior because it's the status quo.

Volunteering with Big Brothers BigSisters has opened my eyes to the impact adults have on children. There's a little boy in the program whose father was incarcerated. Before joining Big Brothers Big Sisters, Adam thought he was destined for the same fate. Like father, like son, so to speak. But after bonding with a positive mentor in the program, Adam now has a new lease on life! His Big Brother showed him that he is in command of charting his own destiny. And Adam wants to repay the favor by becoming a big brother too one day.

Children in Big Brothers Big Sisters were at one time labeled by the school system as “at-risk.” Were they inherently destined for failure? Not at all. They just needed a helping hand.

It takes a lot of strength to build resilience. I guess after a lot of doors closing shut, it's hard to believe that there's an open door waiting somewhere. In order to muster up the courage needed to find it, you have to first realize that it even exists.

Natural philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said,

"Treat people as if they were
what they ought to be
and you help them to become
what they are capable of being."

In other words, never lower your expectations of people. That's why I'm dedicated to holding myself and our society to a higher standard. In order for our society to advance in a positive direction, we need to ask tough questions: How to break the cycle of poverty? How to end abuse? How to empower at-risk children? Is it possible to decrease the amount of suffering in the world?

Many people blow these questions off. They think they aren't worth asking because the answers are impossible. But I bet no one in the 17th century ever thought it would be possible to go to the moon.

One of my favorite songs is John Lennon's Imagine:

“Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace

You, you may say
I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world

You, you may say
I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will live as one”

In this song, Lennon reveals an ultimate truth: the first step toward greatness is first imagining that greatness is possible. I can see a future world where we encourage sharing, giving, and cooperation. I can feel a world where every child is taught to believe in themselves.

I started this blog talking about inheriting pain, but I'll end it by trying to pass on a little beauty. A better way is possible. It starts with each of us. When we hold ourselves and each other to a higher standard, we give a great gift to the next generation.

When faced with a choice, always choose love. Choose to inherit love, and choose to pass it on.


  1. I was doing a general search on Big Brothers Big Sisters (I'm a Big Sister), and I found this post. I love the way you expressed it! Especially about people needing to know that doors exist before they can figure out how to open them. That really describes a lot about what we do, I think - we show them that certain things exist. Then we help them realize that they can obtain it. Most kids really WANT to find that open door, most that shut down have stopped believing that it's possible.

    I had no idea that PTSD was inheritable, that there were physical effects handed down from traumatic experiences. That stuff like this extends into the genes ... wow. My mind boggles. I'm going to follow up on that, thanks for posting a link with more info.

    1. Kudos to you!!! I completely agree with you. They do want to find that open door which I think is the most tragic thing. They just need a positive mentor in their lives. In Puget Sound there are 600 little boys on the waiting list and it breaks my heart. Heather, thank you so much for the comment. And keep up the amazing work that you do. It's pretty cool that the more we understand about the brain and human behavior, the more we learn about each other.