Competing with History

Five years ago I would not have imagined that the hot topics of our time would be around public health and history.  

By necessity the world has become conversant in viruses, vaccines, and variants; N95, KN95, respirators and ventilators; monoclonal anti-bodies, social distancing and how long we should wash our hands.

As we learn more about the disease that plagues us, it is so easy to be critical of past decisions and actions as experts scramble to learn and adjust to the new information.  

We now understand that the homemade masks that we considered life savers only two years ago are not effective against new virus strains and need to be replaced by industrial strength masks.  

We also understand that the virus is transmitted through the air rather than on our groceries. Still, we honor the love and care of neighbors sewing masks for neighbors, and mothers disinfecting every can that came into the house to protect their children.  

We would do well to offer the same honor and grace to researchers, officials and bureaucrats who continue to shift and adjust guidance based on the ever changing landscape of knowledge. We evolve and change course as we learn more. That is the definition of progress.  

The same principles apply to human history. We apply today’s standards to yesterday’s actions, often without seeing or acknowledging the pressures and obstacles our predecessors faced. Like us, they inherited their history too. We celebrate the lives and accomplishments of those who broke the barriers and challenged the status quo of their day to make progress for future generations; for us. 

Applying today’s standards to historical events is good and necessary if we are to further alter the course of history for future generations. History is not only in the past. It remains with us in the patterns that previous generations set in motion. 

We recognize continued patterns of racism, homophobia, misogyny and xenophobia that have deep roots in the actions and inactions of our predecessors. The great strides made by courageous heroes altered history but did not eradicate these patterns. 

Abolishing slavery did not eradicate racism; women earning the right to vote did not eradicate sexism; same-gender couples having the legal right to marry did not eradicate homophobia; welcoming refugees did not eradicate xenophobia. We honor the actions of our heroes by continuing their work.   

We cannot change the past. We inherited the culture we were born into. We can study that culture within the context of history with fresh lenses and new perspectives, or we can continue to sensor the ugly truths by banning books, restricting discussions and codifying bias in our current laws. It is up to us to decide what mark on history we leave.

In my view, learning a more complete history does not diminish the legacy of our great country but enriches it, so that we also can help bend history toward a more perfect union. Teaching our children about past sins alongside past acts of courage and love does lay blame at the feet of children. It equips them to be leaders of their generation to judge our actions based on their evolving standards, which I pray to God everyday will be yet more inclusive, just and equitable.

Let us continue to honor the familiar heroes of the past in the fullness of their humanity rather than whitewashing the truth. Let us continue to find and honor those whose stories have not been told. Let us continue to judge the past from the vantage point of today’s realizations so that we can correct current injustices and make life better today and for future generations. 

Happy Black History Month and Happy Presidents Day!!

About Denise Moreland

The dynamics between employees and managers are fascinating, and often dysfunctional. I have spent my career trying to create healthy and engaging relationships. My book, Management Culture (Two Harbors Press, 2012), identifies outdated rules and patterns, and offers fresh ideas on how we can all improve our work places. Learn more and purchase Management Culture at mgmtculture.com. Through my business, LifeGuides, I provide life coaching, facilitation and public speaking services. Please follow me on: Facebook Linkedin Twitter
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