May You Live Long Enough

May you live in interesting times.
– Fake Chinese curse

Yes, this fake thing again. Why? Because it inspired me to create my own curse.

May you live long enough
to know history’s judgement of you.

Now, technically, this is likely impossible, although some centenarians might feel the cold stare of society’s judgement on their youthful activities, statements, and beliefs.

It’s much easier to judge others than myself; it’s a whole order of magnitude easier to judge historical periods other than my own.

Where does this viewing of history through the prism of modern-day feelings end? Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once gave advice to a gay young man that today would be heresy. King suggested he battle his feelings, strongly implying that the young man needed therapy and sexual reorientation. Today, that kind of advice gets one branded a Neanderthal. President John F. Kennedy, frustrated with a high-profile Democrat who hadn’t supported his election, threatened to banish him by giving him an obscure ambassadorship to one of the, as Kennedy put it, “boogie republics” in Africa. Tell that to Black Lives Matter.

History is complicated. And history requires perspective and understanding, something sadly lacking in those who seek to erase history by imposing today’s standards of right and wrong.

Larry Elder, The problems with politically correct history

In case you’re wondering who Elder is, he’s an American conservative, libertarian flavour. He’s a few weeks older than I am. And he’s black.

Perspective and understanding: That seems like a good place to start. And if we start there, who knows where we might end up?


Thanks to J.L. Whitman for the link to Elder’s article.

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12 Responses to May You Live Long Enough

  1. Tom Watson says:

    Isabel
    I had not been familiar with that phrase until recently. I did some research and have a piece in one of my upcoming blogs. The closest Chinese expression translates as “Better to be a dog in times of tranquility than a human in times of chaos.”

    What will history make of this current time? It’s certainly not tranquil. And what will they make of our varied responses to this Covid-19 time?

    Tom

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Tom – Some would say it’s always better to be a dog! I don’t know how we’ll fare in the assessment, or even what the basis of it will be.

  2. I like your curse, but I find it operating now. Our generation was passionate about freedom and equality, but we seem to have made rampant capitalism the theme of our middle age. There are things we could take credit for, but I don’t think the world is rational enough to say that the changes we have undoubtedly made were particularly planned. We proliferated the web, which is on the whole good, but I had no hand in that until it became ordinary.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Judith – Ah, yes, the power (and pervasiveness) of self-interest: not a bad thing (indeed, biologically hard-wired, I’d argue) but not good when it crowds out everything else. I suspect our generation’s motto might someday be seen as being “If some is good, more is better.” Never mind that it’s demonstrably false in almost every part of life!

  3. You pose an interesting question:
    Do we have the superior view on what is happening in our time?
    Or do those who come after us stand a better chance of examining and describing these tumultuous events?

    As for planning what’s going on, I fear it’s the lack of planning in some place of power that is driving events. Or, that is my perception of malevolent powers that may actually be planned, too. But, then, I lack the perspective that a little more tracing of threads might reveal, which is a way of passing the ball back to an historical perspective. Then, the analysis may lean one way or the other according to the personality of the historian. Do we have an optimist or a pessimist in the chair?

    And in what sense is God in control of this parade of history? I am not sure Octavia Butler’s poetic response is an adequate answer.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – As for who has the superior view (the folks in the midst or the folks at a distance), I think they both have valid perspectives. I believe that human nature hasn’t changed much through history, and that most folks are doing the best they can in muddled conditions. If it looks easier from our vantage point, that’s an illusion. But I also think that seeing the broad sweep of history allows outsiders to see patterns and driving factors that might well be hidden to those in the middle of things.

  4. John Whitman says:

    Isabel – maybe the saying should be, “Perspective is everything”. I say that because one’s perspective regardless of who you are seems to colour everything we see and think.
    In furtherance to your theme, I am reminded of the story about a Chinese diplomat who when asked for his opinion on the French Revolution said that, “It’s too soon to tell.”
    And lastly about Larry Elder, there was a short letter to the editor in the Ottawa Sun at the beginning of last week, where the writer took the Sun to task for publishing opinion pieces by conservative American writers such as Elder and Walter E. Williams. According to the letter writer, the Sun should be publishing opinions by Canadian (liberal) writers.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      John – 🙂 We do like to rush to judgement, whether it’s looking at current affairs or looking back at those benighted fools in history.

  5. barbara carlson says:

    Everything now seems is rushed to judgement: Maybe we don’t feel we have a future in which to gain perspective. Monthly magazines do try to give it, but who will read long opinions when the hourly news is sprayed at us like a fire hydrant, demanding attention.
    If it isn’t “breaking” news, it’s predictions on what WILL happen if …

    But there are some op-edvoices who can do both: predict accurately and give perspective. The Brits do a good job on this.

    In any case, we are smack-dab in the middle of living History, one more consequential and fast-moving than other periods (but that, too, is ethnocentric). I fluctuate from “paying attention”/”bearing witness” to “voyeurism” as I watch chin-dropping, ridiculous “entertainment” unfold.

    Either one, I must stay detached…for my own health.

    An atheist friend said a few days ago, “I am one bad headline from praying.” (Joke!)

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – Can we go back and divert Ted Turner into another career choice? Although I guess when the time is right, the entrepreneur arrives, so if he hadn’t invented non-stop news someone else would have. I find myself skimming when an article gets beyond 2 old-fashioned pages. I write and am still less tolerant of in-depth pieces, although I do still read books so maybe there is hope for my attention span.

      • barbara carlson says:

        On articles, I read the first few paragraphs, then the last two paragraphs. Skim the rest. Most long pieces (esp. in Harper’s are SO depressing.)

        • Isabel Gibson says:

          Barbara – Yes, there are many unnecessary words written. That doesn’t mean we have to read them. 🙂

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