The Allusion of Answers


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.

3 thoughts on “The Allusion of Answers

  1. Pingback: 5 Ways to Move the Creative Needle | Leadership Matters

  2. Dear Frank,

    How eloquently you expressed the sorrow, fears and questions provoked by our current cultural miasma – especially, perhaps for those of us who take an interest in history – even moreso for those with any faith in history’s ability to inform both the present and the future…

    I believe that human history tends to be cyclical, and I agree with you that institutions have lifespans. I take comfort in the people who, in good faith and to the best of their ability, shared and commemorated what happened in the past, and what happens today. Over and over again their work has impacted my approach and understanding of my life. It’s helped me to understand my place in history’s continuum, and this in turn, has helped me continue to work and to bear this movement “from Fall to Winter” we appear to be experiencing.

    It does take time for that wheel to turn, and the season to change… I’m reminded of the discovery of the Gnostic Gospels at Nag Hamadi. The manuscripts were from the 2nd – 4th century and hidden away by someone long ago to save them from destruction when they had been denounced as heresy by orthodox Christians of the time. Yet they have managed to resurface, centuries later, and can still inform our understanding… I’m also reminded of the great Roman historians, Tacitus, Plutarch and Suetonius, whose works provided us with a myriad of ways to process what’s happening now.

    There have always been those who, even in the hardest times in history, managed somehow to ward off despair with one hand while writing down what they saw with the other (to paraphrase Kafka). Those who sought, or seek to share what they see among the ruins… Sometimes that’s all we can do. Perhaps that’s what this post of yours has done for all of us. Thank you, my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

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