To any women who may have felt left out of the title…it’s an old expression. One everyone should want to avoid being attached to.
History is full of people who rose to meet the challenges of their time. Men who risked their lives in wars, whose speeches are still quoted, whose inventions helped propelled humanity forward. Men like Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther. We honor them by etching their faces in granite on our buildings and teaching our children their stories.
But the problem with these heroes is they almost always have at least one glaring flaw. Something so horrific that even the most zealous scholars will eventually resort to defending them with the phrase “he was a man of his time.”
It’s a sort of consolation prize we slap on those who were strong enough to fight some of the largest injustices of their time, but blind enough to miss a few that were staring them right in the face.
Thomas Jefferson – Brilliant Politician, Courageous Diplomat, and Slave Owning Rapist.
”He was a man of his time” the bearded men in the PBS documentaries will sigh. As if his cultural situation didn’t allow him to see the hypocrisy of writing the words “All men are created equal” then going home to force himself on a woman he referred to as his property.
Martin Luther- Risked his life to publish a populist translation of the Bible, stood up to the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church, also a raging anti-Semite.
I get why we do it. It’s hard to find perfect people in history…or anywhere for that matter.
But lately I’ve been wondering how this title will be applied to our time. What cultural black eyes will the history teachers of the future have to put in the footnotes of the 21st Century.
Because if future people think of me at all…I don’t want them to say I was “a man of my yime.” At least not if I can help it. And I’d venture a guess you don’t either. So I’ve devised this short list of misdeeds I’m pretty sure will make a person “a man (or woman) of this time.”
Not Saving Endangered Species
If our generation turns out to be the one that allows several species of tigers, rhinos, and gorillas to go extinct, we are definitely gonna get an ear full of it from the children of the future. You think kids love dinosaurs? They didn’t even have a chance at seeing dinosaurs. I can only imagine how mad their gonna be if they can’t see tigers because we couldn’t be bothered to save a few thousand acres of wildlife.
Not Feeding Starving Kids
This one seems pretty obvious to me. Each year America could feed 2 billion people with the food we throw away. And we currently have around 1 billion people suffering from malnutrition. I’d venture a guess, future middle school students are going to write social studies reports on us with the same derision they currently use for southern slavery.
Being Against Gay Marriage
One time I tried to talk my friend out of marrying his girlfriend…now just hold on…I’m going somewhere with this. Well he went ahead and married her anyway and now they are super happy together. Like adorable. And no matter many times I compliment their marriage he never lets me forget it. “Remember when you tried to talk me out of marrying my awesome wife.” He casually mentions to me every few months, a sardonic smile across his face. I shrug and try and laugh it off. “Yeah, that was pretty dumb of me…” That’s what it’s gonna feel like when people try to explain to their grandkids why they didn’t support their uncle’s gay marriage.
Denying Climate Change
Now this one’s tricky…because if future generations get their act together, like before LA and NY are salt water marshes, we may avoid getting blamed. But if Hollywood and Times Square get flooded by melted ice caps there is going to be MASSIVE asterisks beside any historical figure from the 21st Century who didn’t shout about climate change until they were blue in the face.
So if you want to avoid getting labeled “a man or woman of your time” (because I’m pretty sure women are gonna be on the hook for this stuff as well) then you better speak up. Because it isn’t like the 60’s where you could just say you went to Woodstock or Marched on Washington.
Between Facebook and the NSA…I’m pretty sure that future generations are gonna know exactly what we did or didn’t do.
And in case you’re wondering how I’m doing…I’m well on my way to having 8th graders of the future throw me under the bus. I have done basically nothing to save any endangered species. And as for climate change I just hope there are enough fuel guzzling earth cookers that historians won’t pick me out of a line-up.
I’d be lucky if I’m remembered as:
Nathan Roberts – Started a school for children in Kenya, Minister, but in the end…he was pretty much a man of his time.