Revisionist history makes us feel good. This is true on a national level as Vladimir Putin is doing with Russian history books by scrubbing Stalin’s flaws along with crimes of the USSR. It happens in America when liberals pat themselves on the back, painting conservative leaders as bumbling or evil in school textbooks—or ignoring them altogether—while extolling their own heroes. It is also true in our personal relationship to historical events.
When we read of the Underground Railroad in the mid 1800’s in the United States or of those who sheltered Jews in the Nazi era, we picture those people as our soulmates. Surely, we would have taken a stand were we living at that time!
We cannot, of course, know the truth, but armchair history has the advantage of letting ourselves be heroes while taking no risks. Some of those who assisted runaway slaves had their houses burnt down; some of those who assisted Jews themselves ended up in concentration camps. Heroism, by definition, comes with an unspecified price tag. The amount only gets filled in after the deed.
There is such a thing as time and money heroism as well. Those of us not cut out to put our lives on the line or not in a position to do so, sometimes put our livelihoods at risk. In the world of gay rights bullying, shop owners and county clerks are finding themselves in that situation today. Other times, individuals place their own lives second to a cause, fighting with their energy, time and finances.
On a lesser level, but still vitally important, each of us has relatively low-cost opportunities to support the heroism of others. I may not be able to stop President Obama’s disastrous plans, but have I at least called my congressional representatives to tell them how I feel about the proposed Iran deal? I may not enlist to fight ISIS but have I supported those who are helping persecuted Yazidi and Christian girls in northern Iraq and Syria? (here’s a second example) Have I sent a contribution or written a note of support to those who are paying the price of convictions that I share or to legal groups who assist them? Do I even bother voting?
In my own life, the answer to some of my above questions is yes and to others it is no. Like you, my life is busy, sometimes overwhelmingly so. The list of worthwhile causes and activities is endless. Attempting to do too much usually means doing nothing. Nevertheless, by picturing myself as a future armchair historian and asking myself twenty years down the road, “What did you do to stop evil in 2015,” I hope to push myself to do just a little bit more.