Sunday, October 30

Loving to be wrong.

The other day I called up a good friend of mine, realizing I had been wrong to openly question his relationship with this girl I didn't care for. Half way through my apology and expression of true non-dislike for the girl he stopped me and explained he had been dumped the night before.

A simple series of mistakes, one that anyone could make, and isn't that true of all of them? Divorce, episodes of lousy parenting, dumbhead investments, negligence behind the wheel - it's all too human, and you have to learn how to admit failure and walk away from it and not torment yourself. Sometimes the remorse is worse than the offense.

It is invigorating to realize you've been dead wrong about something. That's why we read history. It's an antidote to smug self-righteousness, which makes us insufferable. You learn about this from books. I can't think of any movie or song that permanently changed my mind about anything, but books of history certainly have.

You sit down and read about the temperance movement of the 19th century, which brought about Prohibition, which you always thought was a foolish attempt by blue-nosed puritans to repress bonhomie, which was the view of the satirists of the Twenties, but there is another point of view: The temperance cause was a protest movement by women who, having been shut out of higher education and relegated to menial jobs, were economically dependent on men and therefore terribly vulnerable to a man's alcoholism. The temperance crusader Carrie Nation, famous for busting up saloons with a hatchet, was the wife of a raging alcoholic who had destroyed her life. The Women's Christian Temperance Union, which you had thought of as a joke, has certain heroic dimensions and helped pave the way for women's suffrage.

It's good for a young liberal like me to read history and recognize that Eisenhower was no dolt and Adlai Stevenson was no giant. And to read about Joe McCarthy and realize that, opportunist and blowhard that he was, he was hardly the embodiment of evil that we liberals cherished as an enemy.

1 comment:

The Bug said...

Yes, history is multilayered - and people are the most layered of all. It's hard when you want things to be cut & dried, but much better to learn to UNDERSTAND & not just spout facts.