In Time and the Search for Meaning in DNA, I talked about the issues I see with our understanding of the various time scales a genealogist can run into today. I gave an example of compressing time and forcing the facts to make ancient DNA results fit with my idea of my genealogical family.
In Meaning, Time and the Cages we Make for Ourselves, I wrote about the very human search for meaning in information and events. I spent some time on “Them” and “Us” and I talked a bit about how we integrate what we’ve learned when we find out that “They” are “Us”. I ended with how our biases inadvertently trap and cage us within the context of the family we know, bending time and transforming people to make them part of our meaningful “in group”.
If you’ve read those, you may see that I am pretty forgiving about people’s biases. It’s not that I think these biases are right, but I realize that they are universal. Everyone has them. Unfortunately they can trap us and cause a lot of suffering even when we’re taking part in something that would not seem to be a matter of life and death (like genealogy).
To me, it seems that it is natural or part of our condition to fall into the bias trap.
Getting Out of Our Cage.
You’ve put yourself in the box, now how do you get out?
Realize that you May be in a Cage.
It seems dumb but you know a lot of people (me included) go around thinking they’re free birds and right as rain when we’re really on lock down and just don’t see it.
If you realize that you’re in a cage, then you’ve already made the first move. Realizing that you have biases, wants, needs and ideas of self that have an effect on everything you do, is a huge achievement. I think the starting point is realizing that it’s possible…or even most likely, that you’ve trapped yourself. You’ve come up with some idea you can live with; you’ve backed it up with evidence; now you ask yourself, “have my biases put me in a cell of my own design?”.
Talk to the Person in the Next Cell.
You may be in a cage, but you’re not alone. I am telling you this from experience. It’s much easier to see the cage around someone else than it is to see your own. Somehow, we tend to look through our own bars and feel sorry for that lady across the way who trapped herself.
Take advantage of that. Tell others what you’re thinking and why, and then see what they come back with. The neat thing about talking to the other prisoners is that they will evaluate your idea based on their own biases and experiences. They can give you a new perspective, different arguments and new ideas to work with. They may shine a light on the keyhole to your cage.
I think if I tossed my MTDNA story past a few friends they might have pointed out that I jumped the rails of MTDNA by talking about Catherine Cable’s surname. That would have been a good clue that I had trapped myself.
Be sure to politely return the favor and help them out too. That is how we all move forward.
Be the Time Traveler You Were Meant to Be.
Now, if you want to completely disappear from your cage, you will need to leave “you” behind and time travel a bit.
People are excellent time travelers. We’re always thinking about the past or planning for possible futures. In the seconds between moments we effortlessly shuffle back and forth in time. Even when we do mundane things like driving or washing dishes, we run through the past, evaluate the present and project where we’ll be down the road.
Know your time frames and jump. So, if you’re considering autosomal DNA (like family finder, AncestryDNA or 23 and me) then feel free to swim in the last 300 years or so. It will likely be a pretty comfortable swim. If you are looking at MTDNA like me, check the time (7000 years ago) and location (maybe Yemen) and then prepare to be amazed.
My MTDNA is most prevalent in places like Egypt and they think it popped up around 5000 BC. I already tried bringing them to me, now I can bring me to them. What did it mean to be a woman in the near east in 5000 BC? What was the world like for them? What languages might they have spoken? What customs did they have. How long did they live?
The Out of Body Experience
All the things I’m working at here are ways to get outside myself that won’t take forty years meditating in a cave or near death to achieve.
Using these mental techniques, I can leave the cage of my notions of myself and explore what it meant to be my “all mother” circa 5000 BC or maybe closer to home, my 3rd great grandfather, or even that guy who got off a boat around 1630. None of them had any idea that I would be part of their future. I can recognize that and learn about them as people rather than as “my people”. Maybe I can take them as they were and not as they relate to me. In that way, maybe I won’t have to put limits on them or on myself.