In The Company Of Explainers

In The Company of Explainers

Years ago I began a long course of psychodynamic psychotherapy. You look closely at your early life and discern new meaning about the events that shaped you. Of course, finding new meaning and actually changing how you live are two entirely different things. If your therapist is good and you are willing to work hard, eventually the new understanding might lead to a new way of living, one that is healthy and whole.

Murray Bowen was the psychologist who developed Family Systems Theory. He described eight key markers of families. Virtually all the markers have unwieldy names. (Psychologists are not necessarily good wordsmiths.) One is “Multi-Generational Transmission Process.” In other words, if you really want to know why you save little tiny pieces of string and put them in bags marked “Strings Too Short To Save,” (I know of someone who actually did that…) you probably want to look deeper than your own idiosyncrasies. Just looking one generation back to your mom won’t get it done either. You need to look to her mother, and her mother before her. We are shaped by legions.

I come from a long line of explainers. Explaining is a well-developed art form in the world I inhabit, and in the generations preceding mine. We believe with Socrates that the unexamined life is not worth living. So we examine. Boy, do we examine. When you examine, you talk. And when you talk, people get nervous. Which means you often have “a lot of explainin’ to do.”

Mark Nepo writes in Seven Thousand Ways to Listen, “There comes a time when you must shed your lifelong need to explain yourself and start to just be yourself.” The reasons you have chosen to be yourself exist. You know them. Nobody else needs to know them. They can watch you in your unfolding.

In the opening credits to his novel Jayber Crow, Wendell Berry writes this warning: “Persons attempting to explain, interpret, explicate, analyze, deconstruct, or otherwise “understand” (this book) will be exiled to a desert island in the company only of other explainers.”

I lived on that island long enough – the island of explainers. I want to break the cycle of the “Multi-Generational Transmission Process” to become a family of people who do not live in fear because of what others might think. I want to have grandchildren who simply become who they are, instead of spending their lives explaining why they are not living the life someone else wants them to live.


It takes a lot to stop the momentum of the Multi-Generational Transmission Process. But I’ve got shoes with thick soles, and I’m diggin’ in.