Lessons From History

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I suspect that every human has at least a tiny bit of tunnel vision. Some have blinders coupled with living in a bubble that make it almost impossible to understand the thinking of people unlike themselves. I suppose that this has always been the case in this great big world of ours. We each grow up in a particular place with certain beliefs that color our thinking about those who are different from ourselves. Bringing us all together is a daunting task that has never been easy. Sometimes fighting for a common cause makes us strange bedfellows and brings about new understandings, but most of the time we tend to stay in our safety zones of thought, hoping and believing that we are doing our very best to be wonderful and kind. In a worst case scenario we are actually guilty of self-righteous behaviors even though our intent all along was to be inclusive and loving. Finding a way of being truly open and loving to one another is not nearly as easy as we would hope it to be. 

There is a great deal of talk about what constitutes love of country, most of which centers on the beliefs of one group or another. I would propose that each faction in its own way truly sees itself as the bastion of democracy. The people who came out for the Black Lives Matter protests sincerely think that our freedoms depend on our ability to recognize the injustices that still exist in our society. Those who wave Trump and American flags insist that we must adhere to laws and traditions if we are to truly honor our Constitution and the American way. Both have devolved into riotous behaviors from time to time because of frustrations that nobody is hearing them. Some among them believe that only force will provide their causes enough attention to foment change. Most of the members of each group only want peaceful demonstrations, but realize that just being silent is too often not enough to bring about change. Each in its own way honestly thinks that they are accomplishing something critically important for the good of our country. Each is guided by a zealous desire to make our nation a better place while the rest of us leave the battles to them because we truthfully just want to be left alone. 

A few nights ago I watched an old movie, Nicholas and Alexandra, based on an historical text written by Robert Massie. In a three hour epic, the film outlined the fall of the three hundred year old Romanov dynasty and the rise of a socialist/communist society in Russia. It focused on the blunders of Tsar Nicholas in underestimating the needs of the people he ruled. It demonstrated the schisms that arise when one group is clinging to a past that is no longer relevant for a huge swatch of the society. Through one miscalculation after another Nicholas abdicated what should have been his role in reforming the ways of governing just as had been done in his cousin’s country of England. 

Nicholas believed that he was chosen by God to rule his people. That idea had been superseded by a powerful Parliament in Great Britain long before. The King of England, Nicholas’ cousin Bertie, was only a figurehead, not the person who determined every aspect of society. When it became more and more apparent that the same thing should happen in Russia if the country was to survive in the modern world, Nicholas stubbornly held on to his power with an iron fist., answering protests from the starving peasants with authoritarian force. He assumed that he knew more about what Russia needed than its people and in the process he lost everything while the country itself fell apart. 

As I see it, there is a great deal of stubbornness and very little willingness to understand one another at play in our country today. Very few people are listening to each other right now. Instead there is more judging and insulting than making attempts to truly hear the concerns of each of the many factions. Perhaps the ways that we are reacting are driven by 24/7 outrage in multiple forms of media. There is so much noise, much of which we ourselves are making, that we tend to move where we can only hear what we want to hear. Like Nicholas we are caught in our own self deceiving bubbles that shelter us from difficult but critical truths.  

From where I stand right now I see a world and a nation in which change is not only inevitable but necessary. History demonstrates that we do indeed progress in positive ways whenever we are willing to take note of our problems and attempt to solve them not just for our own protection and betterment, but for all of the many stakeholders who essentially just want enough justice to feel that they are valued. A wise leader brings as many viewpoints to the table as possible and then actually manages to bring disparate ideas together for the good of everyone. 

Right now we are fighting with one another all too often without being willing to genuinely ask what has made so many of our citizens so angry. What has driven our Black citizens to protest in the streets with an anger that sometimes bursts forth in acts of violence? Why are many of our white citizens so mad and fearful of moving into the future that they would attempt to overthrow the legitimate votes of the people? Why are we in a state of inertia in the halls of Congress? Why does a bipartisan way of legislating seem to be dead? Why are we encouraging a kind of vigilante society in which we turn on one another when we don’t agree? What can we learn from each other that might prevent the potential of a total breakdown of our society? 

Nicholas did not understand what he might have done differently until it was too late. Those who lead a revolution did not see how wrong their total rejection of the government would ultimately be. Our lessons from history should demonstrate that an entrenched unwillingness to face the flaws in our society and work on them together can be fatal. The message we must send to our lawmakers and to one another is that we want to be inclusive and that what really matters is growing the freedoms and quality of life for all people, not just those who appear to be like us.