When I was a little girl in school we celebrated Christopher Columbus. We held classroom pageants and wore goofy paper hats, badly colored to look like sailing ships and, at some point in the play, old Chris would shake hands with the “Indian Chief” and he would be welcomed warmly to the new world and everyone lived happily ever after.
Some time in the past 30 years the story took a distinctly more historically accurate turn. Children are now taught that Columbus didn’t land in America on his first voyage, but in the Bahamas. He didn’t discover an unexplored world. There were already people here. He wasn’t even the first European to discover America. A Norse expedition sailed to America hundreds of years before Columbus was born. He wasn’t welcomed with a warm handshake but, instead, brought upon the residents of “the new world” disease and war unlike anything they had previously known.
I’m strongly in favor of historical accuracy. I think it is good and right that we teach our children both the pleasant and brutal parts of history. How else can we, as a society, learn and grow from our mistakes?
On the other hand, I’m annoyed by all the things I read that seem to imply (or state outright) that we, of European descent, ought to feel guilty for what our ancestors did. Some people would have us issuing formal apologies to the Native Americans for the invasion of their lands. Further, we should formally apologize to the African Americans for having enslaved their ancestors and for the injustices faced by them for generations and to every other racial group who has been treated badly at one time or another.
In general, “white” people should be hanging their heads in shame for everything that’s happened since the time of the crusades and maybe a little earlier.
I have thought about this for a while and here’s the thing…
I just don’t think I can apologize for any of that.
You see, I didn’t do any of those things.
I don’t have a strong enough knowledge of my family’s ancestry to know if they had a hand in any of it but I can’t see how that really matters. My ancestors are dead, as are all of the people who ever saw Columbus’s shiny black boots step upon the shoreline.
We don’t get to change the past. All of our hand wringing and our lovely words won’t accomplish a thing.
We are given today.
So the question isn’t, “should we apologize for what Columbus did?”
The questions we should be asking ourselves are, “What can we learn from those who preceded us? What did they do right? What did they do wrong? How can we do better?”
Instead of having committees that debate the wording of a formal apology for something that happened before we were born we should be finding ways to extend meaningful help to our neighbors, today.
Is there someone being pushed out of their home, today, in the name of greed? Do you know a person, right now, whose full potential is being denied because of their skin color? Have you witnessed, in your daily activities, the mistreatment of one who is “different?”
Speak up! Take action! Do something!
Stand up, for goodness sake, and stop the insanity!
Since the dawn of humanity people have fought and killed, invaded and plundered, waged war and enslaved one another.
Here we are, in the 21st century, with the technology to sit in our living rooms and reach the entire world and we’re still beating one another down with clubs (both literal and metaphorical). It’s time to do better!
It is time to stop taking by force that which is not ours. It is time to stop pushing one another around like naughty children in a school yard. It is time for the human race to grow up!
Columbus showed great courage in taking his voyages. He dreamed a dream and pressed forward with exceptional fortitude and confidence.
Let us, too, dream of a new world.
Let us lay down our weapons, temper our greed, harness our aggression and begin to show genuine respect for one another. Let us teach our children that every person has immeasurable value, that every human being has something to contribute, that every life has worth and potential.
How do you do such a thing?
You start by doing what is right, in your own life, even when it’s hard.
Stop turning a blind eye to the poverty that exists in the world. Ask yourself, “how much do I really need and how much of my excess could be used by someone else?”
Start becoming aware of the consequences of your actions. Who is going to clean up the damage you are doing to the planet?
Take the time to become educated and educate others. It is easy to fear and hate when ignorance has a foothold.
Use your voice. Often the only thing that’s needed is for someone to say, “Stop it! What you’re doing is not right.”
Be slow to judge and quick to lend a helping hand.
“Do unto others as you would have them do to you.”
Do not do as others have done. Look where that has gotten us! Do as you would have others do.
Give people a second chance, because we all screw up. Help those who need it. Praise those who have succeeded. Mentor those who look up to you. Honor those who have walked ahead of you.
Changing the world doesn’t have to involve a monumental voyage.
We can’t fix what was done in the past, but we can certainly choose to avoid doing it again.
Are you, too, seeking to save the earth, promote world peace and raise productive citizens without expending too much effort?
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If we work on our goals together, they may be a little easier to achieve!