Being Honest

“What was it possible for the people of a particular time to have believed?”

Not everyone loves history. For many people, studying history is boring, not to mention a colosal waste of time. But folks don’t hesitate employing history to make a point, support an idea, push an agenda, galvanize support for a cause, defend an action or sell others on the merits of implementing their plans. If we are not careful, history can become just another casualty in our urgent need to fix, manage, or control current events. Because history is primarily staffed by the deceased, we feel little compulsion to treat the past with courtesy or respect. The pressing utilitarian demands of the moment often far outweigh the need to be accurate, thorough, and, most of all, honest. Religious and political leaders are often the worst offenders when they misappropriate history in an effort to rally others around their cause.

So what? Before we decide to use history to make a point, let’s ask this simple question, “what was it possible for the people of a particular time to have believed?” Not what I really need them to believe in order to make my point. Not what they should have believed in order to support my point. Not what I would have believed if I had been them. Be honest. Was it possible for them to believe these ideas, support this cause, be motivated by this sentiment, be driven by this need, oppose this plan or join this movement? If the answer is no, respect demands that we not abuse them by forcing them to be unwilling accomplices. Being honest in our use of history may not help us get what we want when we want it, but it could force us to exercise more wisdom, discernment, and creativity. It may demand that we slow down and admit that we have not thought deeply enough, talked long enough or prayed persistently enough. History cannot save us from the persistent pressures that leadership will exert on our character, but it can cause us to stop, reflect and remember that being honest has never been an utilitarian exercise in any century.

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