One of my most difficult memories as a student of architecture is when I presented a project to a room full of people and one of the critics stood up, walked over to my meticulously drawn images and ripped them off the wall and crumpled them into small balls of waste paper. I cried. It was awful. I, wrongly, thought that it was a good project. I stood there asking myself nothing but questions.
Decades later I find myself asking the same questions, but in a different context. Is there a right and a wrong way to view & interpret history? Who owns this history? I keep asking myself this over and over. I never really have a solid answer to the question. As a capitalist, the answer might be, “whoever funded it”. To a socialist, the answer most likely would be, “Everyone owns our collective history”. Still, others might be a bit more cynical and state, “history belongs to the winners”. For me, the deeper concern is how fluid is history? How much change can history take before it burns to the ground leaving only ashes?
I am old enough to have lived several lives, been lucky enough to facilitate a few positive examples of cultural change. What I am also old enough to know through personal experience, is how much real history is lost simply in the passing of time. Details, undocumented comments, facial expressions, pivots of opinion, and of course subversive and behind the scenes constructions that no one publicly realizes. Sometimes I have been involved in those meetings, but most often I have been on the other side of the door merely inferring from the results.
I do understand why most of us feel like real choices and decisions happen outside of public, transparent discussions. This fuzzy feeling makes us skeptical. I think being skeptical is a good thing. We should keep pushing until we get a good answer – an answer that satisfies our innate skepticism. Sometimes though, I feel like the monster of skepticism takes over and won’t allow for reason or discussion to compromise our thoughts. Research is showing us that is f we generally have our minds made up, then there is not much anyone can do to change our minds. I wonder how drastic, confrontational change must be for all of us to stand still – take notice – and realize that things are not as they used to be?
What is that moment when we realize that we have symbolically moved from Fall to Winter? Do any of us have any real impact on the current of the stream, or are we simply in a raft floating along, falsely believing, that we are controlling the outcome? I am not really speaking spiritually, although for many of you I know that you find comfort in believing that the stream is providence, for me I am wondering if anything we do really is impactful on the long-term life of memory?
Institutions have a life cycle. Even within my life, I have noticed major organizations & companies go from monster economic engines to bankruptcy. I have also, however, experienced the opposite trajectory from failure to dominance. Are our attempts to maintain something merely a way for us to pass the time as the reality of this seasonal change inevitably rolls forward without any regard to our actions?
The machine is going to do what the machine was designed to do. The question is – What are we supposed to do while it does that? Is history simply our way of placating ourselves against the inevitable decay of memory?
I again feel like that young man, after the drawings were ripped from the wall. I have more questions than answers.