“Pussy Cat, Pussy Cat, where have you been?”
“I’ve been to London to visit the Queen.”
“Pussy Cat, Pussy Cat, what did you there?”
“I frightened a little mouse under the chair!”
– English nursery rhyme from the 16th century
Another month has passed too quickly, and I ask myself, “Pussy Cat, Pussy Cat, where have you been?” (Or more accurately, “What have you done in all this time?”)
Well, I’d say, “I’ve been to London to visit the Queen,” but only in a metaphorical sense! However, I have been fortunate to spend some time travelling, both physically in the present-day to enjoy nature’s beauty, and mentally into past decades and centuries via historic sites, blogs, and books about daily life and major events in different parts of the world.
“What did you there?” Travelling to the past, I immersed myself in inspiring stories of simpler lives in a more pristine environment–yet, I couldn’t help discerning some romanticism in idealised or selective memories. Trudging around in historical muck, I also explored heart-wrenching and destructive social, political, and individual situations, thankful they’re past, or outraged that some continue. Yet, I’ve had to marvel at many individuals’ great moral fortitude, strong community, and perseverance that overcame difficult or even horrific situations.
Have I “frightened a little mouse under the chair”? Well, I certainly haven’t chased out all the world’s issues, maybe just frightened myself! There are actually lots more mice under the chair: do we really know and understand the (complex) reasons for choices made and actions taken? Does knowing justify anything? Who wrote the story? We know the “winner” usually got to write the history first, and it takes time for details, for the rest of the truth to surface. Then what?
In all of human history, in different times and places, worldviews and values of all kinds have been eagerly accepted or rudely scoffed at, aggressively imposed or cruelly squelched, naively misunderstood or purposely twisted, romantically idealized or carelessly disregarded, nominally ascribed to or earnestly and sincerely lived. I’m purposely not referring to any specific person, worldview, or event here; whoever or wherever you are, I’m sure you’re already thinking of something from your own background or experience!
Of course, the many uplifting human actions, as well as the cruel inhuman actions of the past continue in old or new guises today. How things go will largely depend on how much the cultural history, community, present-day culture, and politics influence or direct the individual’s thoughts and actions. How much autonomy does an individual actually have in a given time and place? On the flip side, how much a given individual can influence his or her community, culture, and political environment may be just as great a factor.
How to make sense of history? Here’s one question to ask oneself:
Will I personally associate with, help, befriend, love, ignore, insult, denigrate, or be hostile or worse, toward this particular individual human being who is in front of me at this moment?
I think the honest answer and resulting action is a microcosm of all the actions of human history!