If your family had a history of cancer or heart disease, wouldn’t you want to know?
So if behavior and personality is in large part genetic*, wouldn’t you want to know the patterns of personality that dominate your family’s history?
Most of us stop with looking at the personalities (flaws and strengths) of our parents. But sometimes traits skip across generations – and there are things you might feel are unique to you that have come before in one of those ancestors you never met.
This is what I’ve started to learn from interviews as well as random conversations with my last living grandparent.
From her I’ve learned that my maternal great-grandfather had a reputation for picking up trash around the town of Toccoa, Georgia. He even made it into the local newspaper for this “model citizen” behavior. This is funny, because I share his habit of cleaning up the streets (literally). I expect he and I had a lot in common. He was also apparently of the controlling type (the dark side of perfectionism), which I’m ashamed to say can also describe me at my worse moments.
My maternal grandfather passed away before I could meet him. But I’ve been told he was a talkative guy, who had a knack for making those around him feel good. This too I see in myself, for better and for worse. I can be quite chatty, but I also know how to make people laugh and how to affirm people with my speech.
My paternal great-grandfather went to the Olympic trials for wrestling. I’m not sure what this says about me, except that I really really hope I have some of his skills lying dormant somewhere. As I learn jiu jitsu, I could certainly use some of that wrestling prowess.
There’s so much more I’ve yet to learn about these not-so-distant ancestors. I might solve a few mysteries about the more mysterious parts of my personality. I might also get to see how those traits play out over the period of full human life – quite a benefit for knowing which of my natural inclinations are deadly sins and which are life-giving.
Your living grandparents might be the last links you can have to understanding these near ancestors. Go and interview them while you still have the chance. And if you have time for a bonus round, be sure to ask your grandparent managed to live with all these different personality types: you might learn some practical wisdom on how to deal with yourself (and everyone else in your family).
*There is at least something genetic going on there. And even if you believe in blank slates, you must believe that patterns of behavior are passed down through nurture