We’ve all been there.
We are enjoying a nice time with friends/family and then of course the conversation turns to politics, which then turns the conversation to our national roots, which then turns the conversation to history. It is a very frustrating time for me. When I was in High School I used to love it, but I think that now that I am growing into my field of study, I have realized how nuanced the field is (and how much more complex it must be after a bachelor’s degree).
I write this post because this situation happened to me the other week. I was out with a friend and we were sitting and enjoying some half-priced appetizers at Applebees, when he starts to go off on how he thinks Aristotle and Plato would use the internet if they were living in 2014 — I promise there was a semi-logical path of conversation that led to this point. Counterfactual history can be fun to talk about, but I just kind of mentioned that as philosophers, the way they approached the internet would be much different. Then we were talking about the Enlightenment, and I mentioned that this is really where self-improvement saw a larger normalization. My friend then discusses how during this period it was the deists who really founded America. He said that the Founders didn’t even want God in their country (I’d love to see his source base). I then told him that the issue is really more nuanced than what he is making it sound like, but then he was telling me that it wasn’t. At that point I realized that there was no reasoning so I just bit my tongue and let him continue his conversation.
It’s times like these that being a history major can be frustrating. Though I have always stood by the wisdom of my various professors who have used the example of when out on a tour if a tour guide gives an incorrect fact, don’t be the jerk that holds up the tour to correct the person. I try to apply that to anytime I feel like I’m in a historical argument where the person is acting presentist or just in general is beginning to frustrate me because he won’t display empathy to my point — something I am sure my professors have done for me on multiple occassions.
The reason I hold my tongue, is because I don’t want to beat history down the person’s throat. I want to help guide them to the history of an event on their own time (okay that sounds a bit like a sermon, but I think you get what I mean). I want everyone to value and appreciate their history and the history of others. It’s some cool stuff.