Erasing history, willfully forgetting our past, and denying Truth—these are not benign actions. We cannot, out of self-interest, ego, fear, or even misplaced compassion, destroy and reject what has come before. We are all–individuals, states, and nations–imperfect. None of us ever attains the ideal, because that is not only impossible, but it is also in the very striving towards the highest good and in the failing and trying and failing and trying that we actually come close to it.
But if we think we are growing closer to the ideal by denigrating everything that has come before now and all of our failings, we are not only misguided, but also contributing to the worsening of culture. Curiosity, perspective, and even wisdom can only emerge when we are able to admit our shortcomings, declare that we have fallen short and learned, and then evolve into greater clarity and understanding. Without a sense of history, whether in the form of words, statues, songs, beliefs, laws, etc., we are rendered ignorant. We are destined to walk into the future with a naive view of the world, our place in it, and our responsibility to it.
Shockingly, many would have us deny the very logos that the likes of Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King, Jr. espoused. In a twisted attempt to uphold unity, they are actually advocating a type of neo-segregation–one that demands we judge on color, race, sex, and class before all else. Throw in judgement on the basis of our health status and political views and we have a culture that can only be driven by depression, fear, anger, suspicion, and adherence to group-think. There is no room for the individual in this society. Only the group you represent matters.
Without historical perspective, young people especially have no idea where this leads. But we know. We have seen it before.
What is the answer? We must never lose sight of the profound significance of the individual–her curiosity, desire to thrive, be free, and aspire to the greatest good. We must not allow fear and suspicion to infect our ability to think clearly, act freely, and work for the betterment of all men and women by committing to our own integrity.
The ancients and mystics recognized that Being is defined by these essential qualities: truth, goodness, and beauty. If this is true, then color, race, sex, class, and all such capricious categories are fundamentally toxic and only cause greater separation. As we do in the natural world, we celebrate our uniquenesses and differences. We admire the beauty that variety displays. But we do so while acknowledging and being grateful for the belonging and connection that come not from our differences, but rather from the unity that comes from something far greater. While shapes, colors, behavior, and habitats differ, it is the spirit, the Divine essence in every living thing that joins us. And it is this spirit that gives rise to character and the fundamental nature of who we are.
Those wise men and women who have come before us have affirmed it is by our character that we are known and even judged. Will we attend to these prophets? Will we listen to and study our history? Or will we insist on rejecting it and refusing to teach it out of an allegiance to an agenda? Let us be mindful that doing so is not benign. For by refusing to mind the enlightened wisdom of the past, we are ensuring that the present and future are steeped in darkness.
As for myself, I choose to remember and strive for the light, no matter how imperfect it may be.