If you take a journey into your family’s story, you’ll have a lot of adventures. You will find unknown, unspoken, untold things and maybe some unfinished business. Sometimes you can find overdue debts of several generations which are paid for by the offspring. This is not just about material debts, but also about debts at the level of relationships or facts.
The history you read about is not the same as what your ancestors had to live through. If you read about war, it does not mean that you can understand what they really experienced in a single day, a single hour of those times. You will have to understand the decisions taken by your ancestors through the lens of their status and their historical, social, economic context. They arranged marriages to secure their assets, be they small or large, they married off their daughters in a certain order, they left their estate to the eldest or the youngest of the sons, the one who would take care of them in their old age. With all these rules that governed families at that time, sharing could not always be equitable. Some generations later a brother financially helps his sister in a way that is difficult to understand for others. Within the same family the accounts of material assistance are settled later.
There are several accounting systems created within different cultures, or even within families. The responses and reactions of family members to various events or incidents were based on rules, order and traditions, and sometimes they resulted in injustice and lack of acknowledgement. The imbalance created by these responses will seek to right itself one or more generations later, because debts and injustices remain registered in the invisible ledger of obligations, debts and merits (Boszormenyi Nagy). This ledger in which the accounts are registered tends to, in time, bring the result (accounting balance) into a new credit-debt balance.
A man loses his house to his ex-wife in the divorce. After their separation, he was prevented from seeing his four-year old child. A few weeks later he goes bankrupt because he was betrayed by his business partners. In less than a month he goes from his regular life where he had a family and a business to being homeless. He did nothing else but “pay a debt” his grandfather had towards his grandmother. Two generations ago, immediately after World War II, his grandfather had his wife (the man’s grandmother) committed into a mental hospital to get rid of any association with her as she was coming from a Nazi family. As a result, the grandmother lost the rights to the house in which she lived and the right to see her then four-year old child. The grandfather lived many years after this event and he never allowed his wife to return home.
Another story, another account. Having children outside marriage was almost impossible to fathom. This is why many children were abandoned immediately after birth, given to another family to raise as their own or simply abandoned. One or more generations later we can meet people who adopt abandoned children or get involved in activities that are about helping children. What I have described here is just a way in which family members pay their debts at a certain point in time.
The special bond among members of the same family, with the same lineage, makes is so that the accounting among them rolls over the generations, sometimes losing track of who owes whom.
Another important thing I want to emphasize is related to objective assessment vs. subjective assessment. “As long as each individual tends to distort the assessment of relationships in relation to his/her own desires, one can assert that the notion of righteousness is something illusory in its nature” (Boszrormenyi Nagy). What one thinks is right or just in a certain situation is interpreted through the lens of one’s subjectivity.
What about you? What do you feel you’re paying for and don’t know why?