The Stops and Starts of History

planet earth close up photo
Photo by Pixabay on

I suppose that I view the world a bit differently than the younger folk do. My seventy years on this planet give me a different sort of perspective. I am less anxious about the state of the planet than I once was, and I see time as a long continuum in which a few years here and there are simply time for the continual corrections that we humans make to our environment. Real change takes time, and often we never actually see the final product of our efforts. History teaches us that nonetheless we have a way of righting ourselves even after momentous upheavals.

I was reading that the sixth century might have been one of the most horrific in humankind’s timeline. It seems that a volcanic eruption and earthquakes around the world created a cloud that enshrouded the earth. During that time people in the Northern hemisphere lived in a frigid climate and literally endured dark days. Crops failed and there was widespread famine. To make things worse an outbreak of bubonic plague spread like wildfire during the same era decimating the population even more. Nonetheless people persisted and managed to rise from the ashes. It is a story that repeats itself in one form or another throughout the course of history.

With all of our flaws and imperfections we move forward, jolt backward, make mistakes and accomplish wondrous things. For the most part our intentions are good even when our decisions are bad. We sometimes get fooled by evil, but almost always crush the darkness that festers in our midst. We slowly find ways to be better, to do better.

My husband watches all of those programs on Netflix about the two world wars that threatened all of humanity during the twentieth century. One of them featured the stories of pilots in World War II who dropped bombs on German targets. For the most part their goal was to destroy military bases and industrial plants that produced arms. Toward the end of the conflict it had become more and more apparent that the only way to finally stop the Nazis was to hit them hard in the heart of their government in Berlin. There was much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth before the Allies finally agreed to bomb the city. Everyone understood that civilians would be affected along with high ranking government installations. It was with grave doubts about the ethics of such a maneuver that the campaign began. While it was ultimately effective in ending the war and the slaughter, there were those who wondered if we humans had crossed a line over which we might no longer claim the high road.

I suppose that we might debate the pros and cons of almost anything that people have chosen to do. Ultimately the merits of our decisions lie in future outcomes. President Lincoln understood that ending the Civil War required a more committed military offense that would most certainly affect many lives badly. This very kind man had to use great force to insist on peace. The irony of such realities is illustrative of how difficult it is for each of us to know what to do in difficult times.

Our world faces many problems, but it isn’t the first time that this has been the case, nor will it be the last. I am confident that we will work our way toward solutions one way or another, only to discover new concerns as we progress. It is doubtful that we will ever achieve perfection or even come close to pleasing everyone, but we will certainly try our best to reach a kind of consensus. We may quibble and accuse one another of evil motives along the way, but eventually we will realize that our strength lies in using our differences to compromise and effect ever closer approximations to the perfection that we seek but rarely achieve.

There is a kind of hysteria that is breeding in our midst. I see evidence of it in the emails that somehow find their way into my account. If I were to take their messages to heart I would be a nervous wreck because they are designed to incite my anger and worry. What I know from experience is that we do not need or want to throw all caution to the winds and make hasty decisions and laws that are not grounded in consideration of many points of view. I have learned that it is almost always dangerous to follow a single way of thinking with the exception of certain principles such as the idea that murder is wrong. Even in that regard I have learned to ask questions such as, “Would it have been wrong to kill Adolf Hitler to stop his murderous rampage?” In other words even the most clearcut beliefs are wrought with exceptions. Thus it is to our advantage to consider the concerns of those who would express reluctance to follow a particular path. Ultimately, however, we have to choose some kind of resolution and that is when the imperfections become the most clear. We have to weigh the good against the bad, and often accept that not every aspect of what we hope to achieve will be perfect. It is likely that we ill need to go back at some time in the future to remedy the flaws.

Thus it is with life. Whether in the microcosm of a family or the reach of a government we humans attempt to bring order to the chaos that seems to stalk us. Just when we resolve one problem another arises. We must learn to have patience with ourselves and with each other. Most of all it is to our benefit to be understanding and willing to consider ideas that don’t fit exactly into our personal ways of viewing the world. Things will shift and change and work their way toward our mutual happiness. History has many stops and starts but we humans invariably move forward just a little bit more.