The Right Glue

I found a news story that didn’t make much of a splash. A professor of disaster planning at Tohoku University in Japan commented recently that research shows “it takes about three generations of people to forget.” Professor Fumihiko Imamura was referring to the communities affected by the Japanese earthquake and tsunami earlier this spring. After three generations, people forget or lose track of what they’ve experienced and learned from previous disasters in Japan’s coastal communities.

Three generations—grandparent, parent, grandchild—the chain works well. But to say that granddad’s dad—great-grandfather—told me such and such, that just won’t hold. The great kills the grand. No one listens.

You’re likely struck by the same thought as me. The key in this seems to be living and knowing combined. A grandparent is often alive for quite a long stretch of their grandchildren’s lives, or the parent can tell something about their parent and the connection is still strong enough, clear enough, to stick. The child hears and sees it and, more or less, takes it in as his or her own.

Maybe there’s a bit more, though. Maybe the point is that the glue to make it stick has to come from somewhere. Without thinking about it, the fact that grandparents are still living and still knowing me is the glue. So, too, my recollections about my deceased parents resonate because my words fit right around me and illustrate the point.

But perhaps we can find the glue in another source. I suggest that the quality, theme, and above all, relevance of the story can be the glue. If you know and can tell a story from six generations ago that is powerful it will be heard and remembered. One way to ensure this is to link the story to a major event or person in history (say, the Civil War or George Washington). Another way is to weave the story around an enduring issue, situation, trait, or behavior (say, overcoming failure, taking a risk, and so forth). 

Memory becomes history and history can live a long time if there’s the right kind of glue.