We are the Most and Least of Our History
by Olwen Skogerson
We have, all of us, acted from a place of which we are not proud. Some are moments, some are periods of time for which there maybe explanations, but in the end, they left us in the desert of our own weakest and ugliest parts, owing apologies. Sometimes, it is a single individual who reduces us to our base nature. We may dress up our fears in the fur of excuse or adorn our responses with the jewels of self-justification, but when we act from a foundation of fear, the result is a diminishment. We are lessened by the consequences of acts made based in weakness and the unlucky recipient of our acts, or our words, is often forced to bear the weight of our failures.
These moments, however long and deep they are, do not equal the sum or complete measure of who we are. They do, however, belong to us. Those moments of our worst selves are part of us, through memory and through affect. They don’t define us, but they are a part of that which we use to make our definitions.
We always have the moment to moment choice to cultivate what is best in our character. The qualities and attributes that come from our highest sense of self; our strengths that build us up and contribute to those around us. Those moments we can carry with pride and satisfaction that when called upon, or squeezed, we chose what was good in ourselves as our motivating force; from the best of who we are.
As we go, you and I, red and blue so goes this glorious democratic experiment.
America is full-spectrum, because the country is us. We are she, each and every single one of us is America. She is not a separate experience or a distant reality. And, America has some very very weak and ugly qualities. We arrived on these shores driven by needs, looking for sanctuary and possibility and we found them. But while we built our bright futures, we systematically dismantled 1st Nation Peoples’ lives, destroyed their cultures, and denied our fellow human beings their freedoms and their dignity. We used slaves to build the foundations of the great society. We encoded oppressive and racist language into a constitution which claims that all people are created equal, to preserve the power of the oppressor at the expense of the oppressed. The history of America may stretch back over 240 years, but it has a weight that is threaded through the daily lives of every single American.
To be uncomfortable in the presence of our failures of character is good. That moment of rage on the road, childhood bullying, loss of patience with a loved one, that intemperate tweet. Those all originate in the least of who we are; they are wholly our moments–and then we have a choice. We can continue in violence, oppression or intemperance or root out the ‘why’ of the act, and address what is weak in ourselves and how we identify, or how we see others.
To be uncomfortable in the face of our collective American history is a necessity. It is in that unsettled space we make our changes. The cracks and holes of discontent allow the weaknesses of our nation to be seen. The ideals we claim to honor can be brought to bear in solutions which encompass those who needs are greatest.
There are infinite ways to express patriotism which don’t require a uniform and weapons.
Loyalty, fidelity, and honor to the founding ideals of Equality, Liberty, Justice and Freedom of Speech and the fight to defend them against all aggression both foreign and domestic happens in this country-daily by her citizens, by us.
When we demand the universal application with out condition of those ideals to ourselves or on behalf of another, we are patriots.
When we are willing to see in our own benefits, another’s payments and we are moved to dismantle unearned privilege, we are serving our country.
When we show up to dangerous spaces because we have ‘the choice’ of fighting for rights while others do not, we are committing to the best of who we are.
When we vote and when we run for office, to serve the public good.
Our history cannot be undone. It can be used to build or destroy. What we choose for ourselves today, as individuals, as citizens, becomes the weight our great-grandchildren will carry.
The continuous push toward the universal and unconditional application of Liberty, Equality, Justice and Freedom of Speech will, by their very natures, cause disruptions. These ideals are the anathematic forces to the limitation of oppression, inequality, injustice, and the silencing of dissent.
To be a patriot is to choose the side that removes from history, the weight of our weakest selves and hands to our great-grandchildren– no burdens at all.