Contradictions

A friend and I have an ongoing dialogue about Thomas Jefferson – started by my friend’s comment,

“I hope that I am able to transcend my times.   Thomas Jefferson wrote of freedom, equality and rights, but owned slaves.  He could not transcend his times.”

So whenever I come across evidence of  instances where Thomas Jefferson at least gave the appearance of trying to transcend his times, I email my friend.

Like this quote:

“Slavery is like holding a wolf by the ears – you don’t like it, but you daren’t let it go.”

Or the umpteen times he presented legislation for emancipation, before temporizing his position mid-life, believing there were so many ways he could contribute to his fellow citizens, if only he didn’t ruin his political career by pushing for emancipation.

Was he right?   What legacy would he have left us, had he took an uncompromising stance on slavery?  Would we even know his name?  Would the Declaration of Independence read anywhere near the same?  Would America’s western boundary lie along the Mississippi, rather than the Pacific ocean?

It’s not that I condone Mr. Jefferson or any of the other founding father’s actions in their entirety.   I skip back and forth between “Money lovin’ capitalistic, rebel-inciters, who are now heroes because the war was won” and “Great thinkers who not only aspired to ideals but had the guts to put themselves on the line for what they believed in.”

I think often of the friendship of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton – two warriors in the fight for abolition of slavery and women’s rights.   Of how their 50 year friendship was strained, when one refused to bend and the other sought any compromise possible, if only the goal of voting rights for women could be obtained.

And the story of Schindler – who hobbed-nobbed, drank and played poker with the Nazis – could he have saved the lives he did if he had loudly declared his disagreement with policy?

Would Einstein, Frank Lloyd Wright and a host of others accomplished what they did had they stayed in a marriage they no longer wanted to?

Would Ben Franklin’s story been the same  had  he not indulged in flirtations with young women and disinherited his son over political views?

What would our world politics look like, today, if Henry VIII had been content with a daughter and his Catholic wife?

What would western religious practices look like, had the theses by Martin Luther been discussed and debated (as was his intention when he nailed it to the door), rather than seen as heresy?   What would have happened if the German princes who protected him had not yearned to be free from the political yoke of Rome?

Would our modern day financial and international trade systems look the same if King Philip IV of France had not been so deeply in debt to the Templars?

What name would we give to a traitor, had Benedict Arnold died at the battle of Saratoga, instead of just being wounded?

What would I have to read, ponder and write about if Eve had said,

“Apple?  Oh, no thank you.  I’m on the no-fruit diet – just water, please.”

**********

I could go on for 300,000 words or more, but for your sake, I won’t.

I’ve been often accused of being a fence-sitter.

I’ve also been accused of being  too passionately aggressive on some topics.

But most of all, I’ve been accused of reading and thinking too much –

I hope I never stop…

🙂

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6 thoughts on “Contradictions”

  1. So many what ifs. Would Abraham Lincoln be hailed as the great emancipator if he had not been assassinated? If he had been the one to oversee reconstruction and all of its mess? Would he have been so great that we did not need the civil rights movement 100 years later? Or would he have not been able to stop carpet baggers and Jim Crow laws?

    What would the world look like if Nixon and Kissinger had not opened trade talks with China?

    But you raise a good point – Jefferson was so far from perfect – not only did he not push for emancipation, he did not even free his own children. Yet he did accomplish a whole lot of good in his lifetime. Who among us only does good? Has no flawed views?

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    1. Exactly – there are so many points in history, where my soul cries, “What if?” – So many current events where my brains shouts, “Can’t we try something different?” and so many times I feel so alone in my bewilderment that no matter our gains in technology and civilization, we still have not learned how to avoid repeating errors of the past.

      I write these things as a reminder to myself and a plea to the world – we find magnificence in our flaws and stagnation in our perfection and only our descendants will tell if we truly did good or not…

      The possibility of alternate outcomes for any moment in history are astounding and yet, we (myself included) continue to strive for some simple perfection, judge each other and fight battles over issues and complexities that often, we don’t fully understand until time allows us to disengage from our emotions and gaze upon the kaleidoscope of ideals, motives, inspirations and actions that culminated in a single, resounding, life-changing event.

      If we did understand, instantly, in all perfection, then perhaps we should not be human –

      Nevertheless, on days when my heart is wrung with grief over the trials I and others have suffered, when I wonder how we can acknowledge how fragile and fleeting life is, yet continue to make it harder for each other…well, these are the days when I muse and reach out to my fellow writers for a comfort that cannot be gained any other way than through the confirmation that we are all in this together and I’m not the only one who seeks to understand our past, make better decisions today and spend our energy towards building for a better tomorrow.

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment!

      Like

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