The other day, I mentioned tackling Christine Kenneally's most recent book, The Invisible History of the Human Race. It will likely take much longer than one more transcontinental flight before I can claim I've finished the thing. Still, each chapter leads me down another unexpected path of considerations, making the reading journey profitable.
A chapter I've just finished edged into some aspects for viewing our past from a different direction, which the author dubbed "the cultural inheritance of psychology." Reporting on a study requiring subjects to pair two out of three pictures in a set, Kenneally explained how scientists explored cultural differences, East versus West.
Say you were one of the subjects in that study. If you were given three pictures—one of a dog, one of a rabbit, and one of a carrot—which two would you say belong together?
In my mind, I immediately paired my set before reading Kenneally's explanation:
In previous studies the way a dog, a rabbit, and a carrot were paired differed according to whether the subject was from the West or the East.
If you had paired the dog and the rabbit, thinking the common bond was the fact that they both were types of animals, you might find yourself in the majority of traditional Americans (or British, or likely Australians or, for that matter, most of western European heritage descent). According to Kenneally,
The Western subjects paired the dog and the rabbit, which is more analytic because the animals belong in the same category.
Perhaps that is the same thinking behind those dreary tests administered by elementary school faculty upon their unsuspecting subjects for never-explained reasons, other than to place their charges in yet more categories.
Perhaps that is why people who think like I do tended to confound those who thought like public school administrators. You see, while I am far from being Asian—though I can think of people I know, personally, from China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philipines and India—my response to the Kenneally question was far from the Western "right answer." My instant inclination was to pair the rabbit with the carrot.
Of course. What else is the rabbit going to eat?!
And though I don't feel particularly "Eastern," I feel vindicated to learn that I have plenty of company sharing in that rationale. Again, from Kenneally:
The Eastern subjects tended to pair the rabbit with a carrot, which was thought to be the more holistic, relational solution.
Relational. I like that. Perhaps that's why I opt for family history over genealogy. A moot point, I admit, but I like my genealogy to explain just how these faceless names relate to each other. I want my genealogy to reveal who these ancestors were, what they were like, and what they meant to the people who shared their home and their community. I want to know what trials they endured, what incredible odds they faced, what problems they surmounted on their journey through life.
If it is now fashionable to label that tendency "Eastern," so be it. I hardly can find that in my heritage, but I must have inherited it from somewhere.
Wherever it came from, it is still firmly ensconced in the core of my being—that very spark that propels me to seek out those opportunities to explore the places where my ancestors once lived. Though Fort Meade might have been just a blip on the radar of one week in my life, I'm grateful for the tangible opportunity to take in its surroundings. Though one hundred years after the fact, I've just gotten the chance to walk the very paths my great grandparents once walked—the relational in me experiencing the relationships that make up my family's past.