Sunday, January 26, 2014

No country for old excuses

I hate when people excuse bad behavior by invoking their ancestry.

"Yes, I'm loud and crude, but I can't help it! I'm Italian!"

(Yes, I'm sure you visit your kindred in Italy all the time, as opposed to never.)

Many people joke about this, and that's OK, but some are dead serious about it. That's dumb and irresponsible, but most of all, it's weird.

My mom often tells me that I have an "Irish temper." Which I suppose is true in the sense that, hundreds of years ago, some of my relatives lived in Ireland, and that many of us sometimes have tempers. But I'm always quick to correct her: "No, Mom, it's not an Irish temper. It's just a temper, a case of being overreactive to an unfavorable situation and exercising poor impulse control. It's a bad personality trait, something I need to get better at handling." Or however it comes out when I'm not writing it out.

This is the problem with heritage in general: At best, it's a historical curiosity. At worst, it's a crutch for people to excuse no personal growth in life. From what dock your 24-times-great-grandmother got on the boat to America does not bear on how you conduct yourself today. If having Old Country blood hasn't kept you from being a full-on 21st-century American in every other sense, it probably isn't endowing you with some holy bloodline birthright of a bad attitude.

You can't change anything bad your ancestors did, but that's no reason to adapt their shortcomings to your own life. Be proud, perhaps, but also be alive. Be better. Evolve. 

Or keep being loud and crude, and just admit you like it that way.

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