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December 1, 2015

Lately, Princeton Students have been on the hunt for Woodrow Wilson’s head. {Editor’s Letter}

Martin Luther King Jr.

This take Woodrow Wilson’s name off of a Princeton building stuff is ridiculous.

It’s vital to be aware of the failing of historical figures. He was a raging racist who hurt many. He was also a leading peace advocate.

It’s also vital to realize that evvvvery historical figure is, by our current morality, deeply flawed. And we too will be viewed as deeply flawed for behavior we take for granted by future generations.

Note: I don’t say the discussion or consideration is ridiculous—rather, it’s vital. I totally agree with those who seek to bring prejudice and other failings (see below) to light! What’s ridiculous is the notion that any hero or heroine was lilywhite, perfect. They’re not gods—they’re flawed humans wonderful in some ways, not at all in others, and it’s our job to acknowledge both without obviating either.

Wilson, a revered peacemaker & President…was also a huge racist. So, off with his historical head, amirite?

Well…yes, and no. It is important that We the People learn more about our “heroes” and “heroines,” and realize and remember that those who move history are human.

It is important that we not put idols and movie stars and musicians and politicians and sports heroes up on pedestals. They are human. In Buddhism, this is called theism, and it’s vital to read about for your own healthy, happy well-being.

Theism is rampant. Theism is about abdicating responsibility to those above—hero-worship—and, theism is also about tearing down those we’ve set above us.

“When we tell ourselves and others that our heroes are inhuman and on a pedestal that is not just high but unattainable, we are actually pushing ourselves down rather than climbing.” ~ Katrina Honigs

These days, it’s almost a sport for PC-enthused would-be do-gooders on college campuses everywhere. “Did you know your hero was actually an evil person?” Out with the torches and pitchforks!

Well, again, it is important to be aware that many of our society’s heroes are flawed people.

But that someone did something bad, by our standards today, does not invalidate the rest of their service to our world—particularly in the context of their age. The question, then, is “were they ahead of their times,” overall? Or, perhaps more precisely, did they help bend the arc of justice and kindness forward? 

Can we be brave enough to see the bad, along the good, without needing to get rid of either?

After all, a list of flawed heroes is…easy to think of:

Gandhi “invited naked underage (like, realllly young) girls (including his grand-niece) into his bed as a ‘spiritual experiment'”…Read about why, here, if you like. He also was “racist against blacks,”and “the love of his life was a German-Jewish architect and bodybuilder, Hermann Kallenbach”…not that anything’s wrong with that last, except in the view of his suppressing such and claiming celibacy.

MLK, Jr.: plagiarism, affairs.

Einstein: affairs.

Edison ripped off Tesla, big-time, both for credit and money.

Jefferson had an affair with a slave, as we well know…and denied his paternity…while preaching: “the amalgamation of whites with blacks produces a degradation to which no lover of his country, no lover of the excellence in the human character, can innocently consent.”

Martin Luther, the great religious hero, was an anti-Semite. He even had a plan that detailed how to get rid of the Jews.

Woodrow Wilson was a ragingly enthusiastic racist who deprived 100s of good citizens of jobs because of their skin color, ruining lives in the process.

Winston Churchill is…not beloved by the Irish peoples, or any of the former colonies. He was an open racist, typical of his era. You can read the horrible quotes online, if you like.

The point of this sad list isn’t that everyone anyone has ever idolized is horrible.

It’s that we can hold up the good with the bad, and acknowledge—and learn from—both. We in our heart and humanity contain multitudes of good, of bad, of kind, of rotten. We can deal with our own habitual patterns and neuroses through meditation, through serving others, through honestly staring at ourselves in the mirror and witnessing who we are.

“The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.”
~ Pema Chödrön

Yours in the Vision of an Enlightened Society,

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Photo: Esparto Palma/Flickr

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