Judgment Without Context Often Hinders Progress

Interpreting Historical, Social & Cultural Context in Texts ...

Context matters.  I appreciate that there is a lot of anger and resentment in the world today.  In some regards, it feels like these are unusually scary times especially for the more vulnerable amongst us.  It can be easy when confronted with tragedy or great difficulty to lose your sense of context.  Because life is lived subjectively, we naturally assume that whatever we are dealing with is worse or at minimum equivalent to what has come before.  While we wax poetic about the trials and tribulations of our ancestors, we can’t fully understand what they were going through and how it felt to them.  Secretly, we believe our challenges while different are somewhat comparable (or even worse). 

Progress is not always easy to appreciate.  For the younger emerging generation, they naturally want change to happen more quickly.  Since they have no idea how things once were, they are only looking forward to measuring the status quo against a more idealized future.  They can be overly judgmental of past generations who they hold to a standard that just didn’t exist back then.  It’s easy to be a critic reading a textbook.  It’s an interesting fact of life, that we often forget how hard things once were.  We also often take the efforts of our predecessors for granted.

For example, no parent today understands the fear people had moving out west when there was not a scalable federal system of law and order to protect them (and physical violence was never far afoot).   What about trying to create a local economy out of nothing with no public infrastructure, banks, or laws to aid commerce.  We can’t fathom how hard it was to unite the Union and Confederacy after the Civil War.  How can a society right the wrongs of slavery without undergoing dramatic long-term systematic change?  How many families were asked to sacrifice their sons to rescue other countries from evil and destruction?   Can most young people even contemplate what it was like to live under the threat of a burgeoning Cold War and the dangers of nuclear conflict?  How different would parents and grandparents feel about military solutions today if there still was a draft?  Would the Civil Rights Movement have advanced as quickly as it did without a series of personal tragedies and an unyielding and attentive media?  All these things affected the leaders of those times.  Of course, they made flawed decisions, but none of us can argue that progress wasn’t and hasn’t been made.  And, as a result, we have much better societal problems today.

I get frustrated as much as the next person that we haven’t perfected the interaction between human beings leading to a more civil society.  It sometimes feels like we take one step forward and two steps back.  How race is still an issue in this country confounds me, but we have made inarguable progress.  Our system of government is far from perfect, but we thankfully don’t live under the reign and whims of a king. Our Democratic Republic still stands strong after being tested repeatedly these past 250 years.   I am, less interested in tearing down statues from our past than I am in learning from it.  Let’s channel our energy towards making positive future change rather than settling perceived historical scores.  Let’s broach our differences in a civilized yet determined way.  Let’s look in the mirror first and bring our best selves to the challenge rather than casting blame on those who can longer explain themselves or of whom we know little.  Let’s raise our collective moral and ethical standards and elect politicians who share these values.  Let’s consistently enforce the Civil Rights Laws already on the books.  Let’s make safety and opportunity color and gender blind in this country.

Finally, we must admit that recent events of police brutality against African Americans are wrong and unacceptable.  We should be able to do this without vilifying all police officers and defunding good cops.  Let’s support Freedom of Assembly without damaging the property of our neighbors and shop owners. Let’s acknowledge the overwhelming number of good decent people taking a peaceful stand for the rights of their fellow citizens.  Let’s create a future history that we can all be proud of and leave the shackles and misunderstandings of the past behind.  Our context is RIGHT now!

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