When reading through history books, it is easy to wonder about people who lived through historic events. Were they aware they were making history?
What did people living in the 1930s think about the Great Depression? Did they appreciate the magnitude of what was happening, or were they just trying to survive from day to day?
Did the young men fighting in the Civil War think that what they were doing would be written down and studied? Perhaps, instead, it was just what was happening in their lives at that time.
There were plenty of people who joined the Civil Rights marches in the 1960s. And there were others that opposed them. Were they speaking to future generations, or just trying to convince others to help them?
We are living through a global pandemic, political upheaval, racial unrest, and environmental catastrophe. Someday in the future, will students read about us in their textbooks? Will they learn about what happened here and now, and wonder about the people — us — that lived through it?
Are we living through history?
Related questions: What historical figure would you like to meet? What is the greatest problem facing humanity? Should we be concerned with legacy? What do we owe the future?
4 thoughts on “Are We Living Through History?”
I think the answer to the question is pretty clearly ‘yes’.
As the context of the question points out, any one of the many issues we currently face would be history-making by itself. To have them all happening at once makes it all the more remarkable.
There are similar times in history, though, when many things happen at once.
For instance, the last major global pandemic was the Spanish Flu outbreak, which coincided with World War I. To the people living through it, it must have seemed like the world was coming to an end. Nations battling nations on a continental scale, involving much of the world. People getting sick and dying from an invisible, unexplained source — viruses were not well understood, and there was no notion of a ‘vaccine’ at that point.
Or the 1960s with the Civil Rights Movement, repeated assassinations of major political figures (JFK, RFK, and MLK in particular), the Vietnam War and resulting protests, not to mention the hippie movement and landing on the moon, all being capped off with Watergate and the resignation of President Nixon. Similar to now, it must have felt like living in two different countries, neither of which liked each other very much.
So what can we learn from these similarities?
Well first of all, they got through it, and we will too. This will all eventually pass, but let’s hope it passes in to something better and not worse.
Second is that we have an opportunity to make changes and improvements. Let’s make the most of that opportunity.
Things may look dark now. But, as they say, it is darkest before the dawn.
Of course! We are always living through history. The important questions to ask, I think, are whose histories are being told and to whom.
As long as the powerful and privileged only hear their stories being told, they will never be forced to question how their power and privilege often comes at the expense of those whose stories never make it into the mainstream.
As long as the disenfranchised don’t hear their stories told in the mainstream, they will likely find it hard — for good reason — to trust mainstream institutions and their beneficiaries.
And as long as the powerful control the histories that get told, they will use their power to pit disenfranchised groups against one another. A true peoples’ movement advancing justice will be difficult, if not impossible, to formulate.
Right now, I think many people know we live at historical crossroads. Will we turn our crises into opportunities? The global pandemic, political upheaval, racial unrest, and environmental catastrophe mentioned above have many ways to get “resolved.”
Will the history books reflect reality or only the realities of those already having their stories told and heard in the mainstream?
Back toward the beginning of the pandemic, I saw what I thought was a great idea: knowing that this is a history-making event, it would be worthwhile to keep a journal of the events, ideas, and feelings that you are going through, so that in later times you, or someone else, can remember just what it was like to experience the chaos, the uncertainty, and the fear.
That suggestion came about back in April. It is even more true with everything that has happened since, including what is unfolding now in our political world.
We are always living through history. But there are times when big events happen faster and more visibly than at others, and we’re certainly in one of those.