“Criticism is an indirect form of self-boasting.” – Emmet Fox
When we put our heroes on pedestals build landmarks and statues, we forget that they too are made from the same dust and clay all creation, including ourselves, are assembled. When we criticise and destroy our past, let us pray that those who come after us treat us with more compassion and wisdom. The Murrow is an undiscovered country that knows new truths and discoveries that the generations that lie ahead will unearth. Would those discoveries, values and ideas cause a future you to bury your head in shame?
My mother spent over five years compiling our family tree. It goes back to the early 1700s and is an excellent work. Mum followed a template that her cousin had developed, and together there were many hours spent talking about a lot of people whose names, to the uninitiated, all sounded the same. It was tough to keep track of her activities, and it would just wash over us at family gatherings. However, it is a resource that we highly value as the years have passed.
There is one distant relative no one mentions. Everyone is quite happy to talk about the men and women born in prominent places or The Dutch Consul to Aleppo, responsible for sourcing Napoleon’s famous white stallions. Others sought their fortunes as indigo plantation owners in what would become British India. Though they are less talked about, there is a chance there was an exploitation of the local populations. We believe another who married a high-caste Indian woman, perhaps royalty. This marriage would echo down the generations as the undercurrent of British racism would show its head as my ancestors became more entrenched in the subcontinent. But the one we don’t mention was an army officer and engineer. A great leader responsible for constructing many of the world-renown bridges throughout India. Many who bear his name. A legacy that stands firm to this day, with 1000s or perhaps millions’ benefiting over time from shortened, safer journeys.
The British army would move their key officers around, and my ancestor, on one of his many postings, made it to Australia in the 1800s. One of the many salt lakes has been named after him. Unfortunately, to our great shame, with the meagre information, we have gathered, he seems to be involved with a massacre of aboriginal Australians in eastern Victoria. This incident is a significant blight on his life.
We do not know whether he was the architect of the carnage or was willing to use the old get out of gaol free card – “I was just following orders”. So then, later in a life haunted by those images, did he beg for forgiveness from an unknown deity? Or did he go to his death oblivious to the trauma those few days of his life had left behind? I hope it was a desperate search for forgiveness.
Yet if we dig into our pasts, we all have angels and demons flittering through our DNA.
“He has a right to criticise, who has a heart to help.”
As we look back at our histories, our family trees, our cultural foundations, we build stories and narratives of those who bear significant responsibility for the foundations on which our lives and countries are constructed. They are not the whole truth and can never be so. Yet, we build them, highlighting our species’ qualities that we either seek to encourage or negate in ourselves. Most of our heroes would wish they could meet the person the rest of the world holds them to be. But we need those heroes, ideals, and character traits to aspire. When we seek to extract ourselves from the houses of our culture, we risk the chance that, in the end, we will have nowhere left to live. When we tear down the house, we are, in turn, building new narratives from the elements of the past that suit the story we currently wish to tell. We all fail to live up to the person we hope we can be. These noble narratives are what a statue or story should remind us. They remind us of what to strive for, what areas to remain open to, and the areas of our experience where we are blinded.
On November 25 of last year, 2021, a statue of Thomas Jefferson was removed after 187 years from New York City Hall. Jefferson was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, the third US President and a slave owner. It has been one of the many of the world’s past leaders whose memories we are trying to erase. Then, just over two weeks ago, January 26, 2022, the statue to the man attributed for discovering the east coast of Australia – Captain James Cook was defaced in my city – I’m sure it won’t be the last time.
“The one sinless among you, let him cast the first stone” – John 8:7
If there are stones to be thrown, consider their size and likely damage, and perhaps make yours the last. And remember that, regardless of their size, all stones leave ripples through time.
What astounds me is the failure to see our own hypocrisy. We drive to these events in cars made by massive German or Japanese companies whose foundations were built during WWII. We go home to our precision electronic devices made with great skill. Yet we forget that the seeds of Japanese involvement in WWII were sown in the aftermath of WWI when we refused Japan a seat at the table because of our prejudice and racist tendencies. Yet, Japan’s current handling of the Covid Crisis with maturity and respect for its citizens will leave many traditional western countries future historians to bury their heads in shame. Or, at other times, we are caught wearing clothing of manufacturers with dubious backgrounds and manufacturing locations. Locations that pay wages so low they are little better than enslaved people. We scoff down our coffee or chocolate, little caring about whence it came; And on the discovery, we, on occasion, will still knowingly purchase a product of questionable origins.
“And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but do not consider the plank in your own eye?” Matt 7:3
Great men and women are not only great because of the events that we remember, but more importantly, because of where they started and the trajectory of their lives. If they had lived long enough, they too might have come to the same realisations that we criticise them for lacking today. But, after all, the shortness of life haunts us all.
Is the anger we direct to the past more a reflection of the lack of progress in solving the crimes of the pasts’ hero’s that their societies permitted or were unable to see because of their cultural biases? Is the real problem our refusal to educate both present and past generations in values, critical thinking, and personal philosophy? What will our future grandchildren say about us and our rather simplistic desire to reduce everything to a zero-sum game? What will they say about our inabilities to move past deeply emotional traumas and our failure to seek rational, reasoned, compassionate and forgiving understanding and answers?
“The belief that we are in complete control over ourselves is a total fucking myth”.Mark Manson
If it is true that populations get the leaders they deserve – what does the current lot say about us? Have we been lazy and unwilling to engage in the real business of living and creating a culture? Are we guilty of fiddling while our countries, cultures, and world burn? Unfortunately, yes to all of the above is the more than likely answer. Perhaps the death of our various cultural, spiritual traditions is to blame? Or was it our willingness to let them slip into neatly packaged emotional experiences bound together by happy language marketing phrases that say “we belong” but fail to understand? Or is it our willingness to engage in our childlike baser elements with our distractions and desire for the latest new “toy” to negate the ever small, cocooned world we inhabit? As long as the gravy train keeps going, are we happy to turn a blind eye to the actual events in the world?
As one of my favourite business and personal philosophers often said – it is easier to write and talk about these things than to do, but this shouldn’t stop us from striving to live up to the ideals we hold for ourselves. Yet we all to readily hand our responsibilities to a higher power, whether that be a spiritual one or one of our own construction. That is a failure on our part. Life is messy; it’s complex. None of us, in this incarnation, have been this way before, but that is what makes it worthwhile, to see what we can make of the time, dust, and the seed and soil that life provides.
None of us will leave this world with clean hands. Let us hope that those who come after us look upon our lives with empathy. We hope they remember the great people, in whatever matter, great or small, we strove to become, or like many, died in the attempt of becoming. If we look at our journey through life – can we honestly say we are a better version of ourselves?
If we are to make decisions and judgements about those we honour, perhaps we can use as our guide the following maxim-
“Were they evil men and women who did the occasional good thing, or were they good human beings who in their humanity and lack of understanding did the occasional ill?”
So let us not be overly critical of the shoulders of the heroes and villains on which we stand, as we, too, in the dying moments of our own lives, will feel the gentle but steadily growing pressure on our own.
Till Next Time – Something To Think About & Share.
Resources and Further Reading.
“The Attack on Our History and Culture” – Neil Oliver.
The Truth About the Founding Fathers Owning Slaves – Thomas Sowell