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A Priceless Inheritance

Family Learning

by RALPH NADER

They are free, valuable, personal and too often not mentioned or used. I speak of the insights, wisdom and experiences of families over several generations.

Now that Thanksgiving weekend is over, how many families recounted some of their traditions for their children and grandchildren to absorb and enjoy? It is highly probable that electronic toys, music and videos received more than a little attention over those four days.

That is a problem. Many youngsters are spending about 50 hours a week watching screens-television, video and computer-for the most part as spectators or engaged in trivial pursuits such as endless text messaging or fiddling with their Facebook profile.

Yet in the overall picture of family upbringing, it is what families do together, participate with one another and their friends or relatives in their neighborhood that significantly shape character and personality.

Earlier this year, I wrote a book called THE SEVENTEEN TRADITIONS about how my mother and father raised their four children in a small factory town in Connecticut during the Thirties, Forties and Fifties.

The seventeen traditions marked the ways we were raised-learning to listen, how to think independently, how to learn from history and from our siblings, how to work, care for our community, respect our parents and relish simple enjoyments needing our engagement, for example.

The reaction to this book from around the country was uniformly positive, making this the only book I have written that everyone loves.

Why? Besides the helpful sayings and problem-solving ways of my parents (such as getting us to eat right) the book was well received because these pages often resonated with their own family memories and made people more aware of their great-grandparents, grandparents and parents at their best.

Sadly, the transmission of these best sayings, insights and experiences are not being set down, notwithstanding the plethora of recording equipment. Pictures galore, yes. But my sense in speaking with hundreds of people, during my book tour is that recognition of these family gems is not often accompanied by their being written or recorded for transmission to the next generations.

It is too easy to procrastinate and then, suddenly it is too late for granny or grandpa and this priceless inheritance is lost forever to the children and grandchildren.

Coming from the forebears or ancestors, these traditions mean a great deal for these youngsters and even more when they grow older. The same wisdom, song, poetry, proverb (my parents disciplined us with proverbs, not believing in corporal punishment) coming from other sources is just not as memorable, repeatable or meaningful.

Mother and father raised two girls and two boys who enjoyed civic activity. They taught us the tradition of civics and how to form our civic personality of resilience and critical thinking by the force of their own example. They regularly participated in community activities enhancing justice, safety (eg. from floods) and charity.

Today, the commercialization of childhood by hundreds of companies saturating children directly with advertisements for things and programs which are generally not good for them-junk food, violent and salacious programming and so forth-has undermined parental authority and taken advantage of the days when parents are away commuting to and from work.

Yet, it is the family structure which is indispensable to a strong, self-confident people that relates to community and work with a resourcefulness that places important civic values over the relentless drive for profits or commercial values.

Every major religion many centuries ago warned its adherents not to give too much power to the merchant classes. The stomping on other societal values by powerful greed caught the attention of the early prophets more through daily observation than through revelation.

For some months, we have asked families all over the country to send us a tradition or two-an insight or experience-to get the ball rolling for preserving their own family collection. The website for such examples is Seventeentraditions.Com.

Jo wrote us recalling that during the 1960s and 1970s, she and her husband had a rule for their daughter that "she could not have anything she had seen advertised on TV, because the price of an advertised product would be inflated to pay for the advertising that made her want it in the first place. The lesson was one of both cost-consciousness and awareness of advertising manipulation."

As a teaching prod and a discussion starter, this tradition of Joy’s family came filled with thought-provoking, peer group resistant, health advancing benefits. The vast majority of products advertised for children on television are easily avoidable or replaceable once critically appraised.

So, send us a "best practice" or a penetrating insight from your family history for placement on Seventeentraditions.Com. Have this holiday season be the occasion for starting up these wonderful and helpful recollections to enrich and protect the family from the corrosive and damaging predatory forces which surround families from so many directions.

In the book, I recount one day when, at age ten, I came home from classes and my father asked me: "Well, Ralph, what did you learn in school today, did you learn how to believe or did you learn how to think?"

Need more be said?

RALPH NADER is the author of The Seventeen Traditions