Nearly every Sunday I jot down a few words from the sermon — words I need to think about in the moments of silence, words I need to hold onto and carry around. This week’s gem was, “Humanity is responsible for its own history.” The words belong to Rene Girard, a French historian and philosopher who died earlier this month.
Though I’ve not read his work, his words caught my attention. I imagine he was talking about humanity as a whole. However, it’s difficult to think about this on such a large scale. I have to reduce things to something more manageable: my city, my neighborhood, my family, my self.
If it’s true that humanity is responsible for its own history, then it must be true for me as an individual. What I do, what I think, and how I act contribute to all of humanity, even though my scale is one, not millions. There are no millions, no humanity, without individuals like you and me.
So, how am I responsible for my own history? I can hear your protests: Things happen that I didn’t choose, things that are not my fault, things I wouldn’t wish on anybody. What about wars and cancer and death and abuse and violence? I didn’t cause that stuff. It’s not my fault!
I agree: stuff happens, stuff that is beyond our control, stuff that marks our personal history.
We cannot change our personal historic events that have shaped us. However, we can choose how we respond to them.
I’m suggesting that you can choose to be a victim of your circumstances or you can choose to grow in spite of or because of your circumstances.
- You can remain angry or bitter about words spoken or deeds done for hours or weeks or years or decades or a lifetime — or you can examine your own feelings and attitudes and do the necessary work required for reconciliation.
- You can strive to get even, to demand the pound of flesh, to wield power unjustly — or you can work to create a personal constructive response to such affronts.
- You can be mired down by the losses, the abuses, the hurts, the unfairness of life in general, — or you can mourn the tragedy of it all and work to move on, reducing the power of these events to control you for a lifetime.
When we were kids we believed that life is supposed to fair. This playground rule set us up for a lifetime of misplaced expectations. The truth is: Life is not fair. It’s never been fair despite our wishful thinking.
However, our response to the unfairness, the tragedy, the losses, and the disappointments can change the course of history for ourselves, for our children, for our extended families, for our friends, perhaps some others in the greater humanity.
Show up. Do your work. Claim your life. Create your history.
Until next Tuesday . . .