Lately, I have thought a lot about people and community. Last week I finished a nine week course on local history docent training. The thing that struck me the most throughout our lessons and tours was this theme: the history we share, the connection we make between archaeological artifacts and our diverse tour audiences, is not education but provocation. This comes from a variety of voices and sources, and anyone who knows about working at a historic site will recognize this. For me, a person who has grown up in a traditional Christian household, who was taught that there is only one history, there is one timeline with many voices to back it up, history is black and white… That is how I have always thought of history. I have always thought of historians as truth tellers, as educators about their time. History was this way and not that way.
Our speaker in class said we are not educators. We are not truth tellers. This makes so much sense to me, as I have come to embrace the diversity of many different angles of truth and individual stories in the world. Our audiences are there to be entertained, not necessarily educated, and history is the most impactful when it is relevant to the audience. To spark curiosity about connection the past, we help the audience feel the enchantment of that link to the past as history docents and tour guides. We share what multiple interpretations there may be, and how we may guess at the course of history up to this point. Humanity has heard from a chorus of voices over the thousands of years of recorded human history, all from different angles. They each have their own voice and their own perspective as we all do today. If there is any truth, it is that “the” truth is made up of so many facets we can never possibly know its whole. We are simple beings, for all our complexities in comparison to other beings around us. In reality we are not intelligent or intuitive enough to be omnipotent.
Each person must rely on the voices of others to interpret history, so we may find and connect its relevancy to ourselves and to our audience. We must never assume the world is full of idiots, although I feel sure my experience driving on the highway, shopping at the grocery store, or even living in an urban neighborhood and hearing the loud arguments of neighbors proves otherwise. That is part of the lesson I am learning, though, that people are flawed and that does not necessarily negate their intelligence or the impact of their story on the world. This is not an easy lesson to learn. It is so much easier to be angry and indignant when someone seems less intelligent than you in the moment, or when someone disagrees with your opinion.
For example, when I read on Twitter this morning that there is a trending hashtag, #WomenAreObjects, that enraged me. Why? I thought. Why would thousands of people be stupid enough to think that anyone who was born with the XX chromosome is just an object? Yet, there is something behind each and every one of those people’s life experience that has taught them that. Perhaps it was their awful parents. Maybe it was the culture they grew up in. I have no idea. It might be no one has had a real conversation with them about how women inherently have civil rights, too. The point is, I should cut those people some slack. One of the biggest issues in our society is hatred and loathing of others. We have created a culture where it is acceptable to shun, shame, mock, and hurt others for our own selfish purposes. (Maybe that has always been around in human behavior) In the 21st Century, we have all the information in the world available to anyone who wants it and can access it. Shouldn’t we be wise enough to turn that knowledge into kindness towards one another? The hard part about kindness is that it takes selflessness.
People matter. More than I want them to, but that is what I have learned. Being kind matters. Being polite matters. I hate this principle, but in the end I know that the best way I can get along with people, and succeed in life, is to respect them and genuinely listen to their perspective (whether they are openly sharing it or not) with wisdom, intuition, active listening, and patience. Accepting other people unconditionally is the hardest thing to do, because everyone is awful in their own way. Yet that acceptance is necessary if we are all to get along and treat each other equally, no matter how hard we may each struggle in every conversation to hear someone else out. It’s easy to hate everyone at some point, for some reason or another. It’s not healthy. Healthy is not the easy path, but it is the strongest one in the end. As I often must wish myself in this arena… Good luck.