Kenneth Greenberg :: Personal Historian

Whenever a loved one dies, a library burns to the ground.

~ An often quoted African proverb.

Stories help us peer into the past and make pathways into the future. Preserve your personal legacy by building a fireproof library to house the volumes of your knowledge and the stories of your life. Build your library now, before it’s too late.

Old men, old women, and even younger adults and children have much to teach us about life and about ourselves if we provide venues through which their wisdom and experiences can be shared.

Everything we know, everything we have learned from our predecessors, is at risk if we don’t properly gather and transfer it. In the workplace, when a longtime employee retires or relocates, the team loses institutional memory—the accumulated set of facts, traditions, values, systems, and processes that makes up an organization. So, too, is the case with the knowledge and memory within families.

Maybe Aunt Anita, rest her soul, was the only one who knew that Grandpa used to give $1 to the homeless man on the street every day on his way to work. Or maybe your mom is the only one who remembers that, when you were four years old, you started bandaging up your stuffed animals with tube socks, and now you’re a veterinarian. Wouldn’t you want to know that?

These kinds of stories are at risk of being lost if we don’t recognize the wealth of information those around us have to offer. In Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, surgeon and public health researcher Atul Gawande argues that new technologies and forms of communication have eroded the respect once commanded by elders. “In the past, surviving into old age was uncommon, and those who did survive served a special purpose as guardians of tradition, knowledge, and history.” In the age of the iPhone, our elders no longer have an exclusive hold on certain kinds of knowledge.

We now tend to think that whatever we need to know can be found online. We have so much information at our fingertips, but it’s not all meaningful or relevant to us. Just try this: pick up your smartphone and say, “OK, Google… how did my parents meet?” or “Hey, Siri… why did my ancestors settle in Chicago?”

Stories help us peer into the past and make pathways into the future. Guard against memory loss by building a fireproof library to house the volumes of your knowledge and the stories of your life. Build your library now, before it’s too late.

Kenneth Greenberg :: Princeton New Jersey :: (609) 429-0699