Years ago the Coca Cola company had a Christmas advertisement. A choir of rosy-cheeked children holding candles would sing, “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony…”. You can’t miss with kids, Christmas good will and a choir, but somehow, no matter how much we devoutly wish for peace, it never comes quite as we would like. And “perfect harmony”, well, not in this lifetime.
I never could understand why so many people say they “hate history”. Having taught history I get that no student likes to be told they “have” to learn something for which they can see no immediate value. But as we gain a little history of our own, as the years fly by and the grey hairs appear and the aches and pains multiply, a study of history should be central to our understanding of how human beings operate and the role of the individual.
There never has been a time of “perfect harmony” on earth. Humans’ earliest civilizations were characterized by war and conquest, by murder, torture and slavery. From the evidence found there has been a constant rise and fall of civilizations - the victorious and the defeated. Some people disappear into the mists of time, are swallowed up by other peoples. The gene pool adjusts itself and time marches on.
Even though peace is an elusive concept, humans seem to never stop working toward that ultimate goal. To be able to bypass color of skin, cultural differences, religion, gender is something devoutly to be wished for. How to get to that point, however, that’s the problem. In the middle of these disturbing times people say to me, “What’s happening? Things have never been this bad before. How do we ever get back to what we once had?” History tells us life has never been perfect. Every generation has faced what they conceived to be Armageddon. And history is linear — it just keeps moving forward.
In our own time growing up as a ‘Baby boomer’ life was pretty good. The soldiers were coming home from World War and settling in to marriage and families. After the atomic bomb was dropped people really thought that would bring people to their senses, but within a few brief years the Korean War and the Cold War piled disaster upon disaster. The assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King; the Vietnam War which made everyone uncertain — should we be there or not; “End the war” riots in the streets; Civil Rights and the burning of Detroit and Watts among others; the following years brought us into Desert Storm, the Oklahoma City bombing, Isis, the 9/11 horror and a group of presidents who grew in power, but not always in truth telling, justice and honor.
We are once again being challenged to look at our history. The pandemic has given us time to examine our world and the rough spots we have ignored in our mad dash to nowhere and nothing. The greater part of courage these days is recognizing where we have failed and being willing to bend our backs to begin again. History shows us every generation is called to practice justice, love kindness and walk in humility. How well this generation does depends on — guess what, each of us.