The Critical Eye of History

This weekend was my girls’ fall break from school so we headed to the beach and ended up touring Middleton Place Plantation, an old rice plantation in Charleston, South Carolina.  It’s a beautiful, beautiful place along the Ashley River and we had a really great time.  We did it all: cow milking, carriage riding, horseshoe making, house and gardens touring, candle making, pig, chicken and water buffalo feeding — we did all of it.

And, of course, we had an opportunity to discuss slavery with our children — not an especially easy thing to explain to a 7 and 9 year old.  They had certainly heard the term  before, but probably hadn’t really considered the implications of it all.  However, standing in the bedroom of a little slave girl about their age seemed to bring it all pretty close to home.  So, I tried to explain that slave owning was rather common among the wealthy in the South and that while we now regard slavery as a great evil, slave owning families, like the Middletons who owned Middleton Place Plantation, may not have even considered what they were doing wrong.

At some point, I said, “So girls, I have a question.”  Apparently, we’ve had a conversation like this before because my oldest said, “I know, you want to know whether we would have thought slavery was wrong if we had lived 100 years ago or if we would have been one of the slave owning families that thought it was ok.”

“Actually,”  I said.  “My question is a little different (actually, that was my question.  But I was not going to be outmaneuvered by a 9 year old).  My question is, what is it that we, or others we know, are doing today, that people 100 years from now will see as really, really wrong?”

But seconds after I posed my question, we were lining up to feed a peacock.  I never got an answer.  But I stand by my question.

What are we doing today that will cause people 100 years from now to recoil in horror?

It happens to every generation.  I think of how the mentally ill and lepers were treated in biblical times.  Or slavery in the 1800s.  Or Jim Crow laws of the 1940s and 50s.  Maybe for our time it’s the death penalty, or our attitudes toward homosexuality generally and gay marriage in particular.  Or maybe it’s issues related to income inequality here in the United States.  Or our treatment of the environment.  Or our hoarding of resources while so many in the third world go without.

But those are things that, on some level, I’m already pretty sure are wrong.  So maybe those don’t count.  It’s the other things that I wonder about — the things that I am either actively engaged in or am partially or completely complicit in, that some day people will regard as truly evil.  It will happen.  It happens to every generation.  It happens to each of us.  I’m pretty sure I won’t be spared the critical eye of history.

So what do you think?  100 years from now, what will people say was the evil of our times — that thing or those things we engaged in and really didn’t appreciate how wrong it really was?

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One thought on “The Critical Eye of History

  1. Pingback: The Critical Eye of History – Redux | skepticallydevout

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