As children, we learn many lessons from our families. By demonstration (more than by lecture) families teach us things like how the world works, who we are, and what our value is. They teach us how to communicate and demonstrate what words mean. Yet sometimes family lessons pass inaccurate information through several generations.
A while back, inaccurate information was exposed during a family visit. My aunt commented on an article of clothing by observing, “That looks so droll”. She meant that the clothing looked dull, uninspiring, and drab. I grew up hearing droll used in this way – and I never wanted to be considered dull, drab, or uninspiring. Yet once, that word was applied to my public speaking effort. A few years ago, I gave a humorous speech in a Toastmaster’s meeting that had the audience laughing, but I overshot my time by four minutes and judged the speech a failure. A few days later, an in-house news article at work referred to my “droll speech” – not only was it too long, it was dull, and I was offended!
Imagine my surprise when I shared my chagrin with my husband and he asked why I was bothered: “Don’t you know that a droll speech is a humorous or amusing speech?” he asked. “No”, I replied, “I thought it meant that my speech was dull and boring, after all it was too long”. How embarrassing – inaccurate information transmitted by my family caused me to be offended by an inoffensive comment.
What we learn in families can feel so true that we filter out any contrary evidence. Last weekend, my aunt did not believe me when I told her the true definition of droll. I suggested that she consult an online dictionary, and she exhausted the page trying to find evidence to support what she had learned from her grandmother. My aunt and I laughed about the inaccurate definition of droll passed down through four generations of our family. Today, we each use the word accurately. Other lessons our families teach us are more difficult to unlearn. Some of us learned that our only true value is in our looks. Others learned that acceptance is something to work for and earn. Still others learned that we are worthless and unimportant. Such inaccurate lessons chain us to emotional pain.
What family lessons might we need to unlearn?