I know, this is probably not a real word but I am struggling to appreciate how our understanding of our world is interpreted and re-interpreted by subsequent generations. The other day in one of my classes my students were presenting material to the class as part of a 4th year seminar and in the discussion the students built an exercise whereby the class had to determine whether an individual fit into one of a number of categories. The class question dealt with corporate leaders and whether these leaders might be seen as either: icons, scoundrels, hidden gems, or silent killers. The presenting team put forward a variety of interesting individuals as part of this game and one of them was Mahatma Ghandi. As I listened to the various conversations in the class I began to realize that Ghandi was only seen as a hero: an icon who lead his people to the promised land of freedom and independence.
I am not suggesting that Ghandi should be viewed in any particular way but I challenged my students to see Ghandi in another way and I found it interesting that my alternate presentation of Ghandi was neither challenged nor appreciated. I suggested that besides being seen as an icon, Ghandi was also seen by some as a terrorist, a radical, and was at some point in his life tried, sentenced, and jailed for sedition. The British at the time for example, did not see him as either a hero or an icon so why is he so narrowly seen as one today? I wanted my students to attempt to understand just how perspective impacts how we view the world and to understand our world with as complete a historical lens as possible. It is my belief that only then can we attempt to more clearly navigate this very complex 21st century. I realized that my sidepiece about Ghandi was not part of the larger class conversation but the very simplistic and shallow view students appeared to have about the facts in front of them caused me to be challenged by what I saw as a significant void in our general understanding about our world and a similar void in pushing the boundaries of our beliefs and acceptance of what we are being fed on a daily basis through our socio-political processes.
I have just finished reading a book titled A People’s History of the Vietnam War by Jonathan Neale. I found this book enlightening and fascinating. I can understand why the book challenges some, but what really worked for me was the author’s continued attempt to connect global/historical events and attempt to put things into some form of greater perspective. Nothing happens in a vacuum. Geo-political global events are so very interconnected in so many ways and I appreciated how the author worked to show these long-term historical, political, and economic connections. Yes the author rants and wanders off at times but as a reader you either work with it and find how the rants connect to the larger story or not. I did not find the sidepieces overly distracting probably because of my personal worldview. There are so many connections that shape every corner of the globe and we cannot see our world through a simplistic and isolated lens – we have to question everything. It has always been so and our past is littered with examples of the impact of our “I see nothing” or “it does not impact me” viewpoint. I want my students to doubt, to ask questions and to know that at times that which they face is nothing more than a façade placed in front of them for many reasons and they should be sufficiently curious to ask about the man behind the curtain. If nothing else, I hope that the strength of curiosity and willingness to doubt and to challenge will help to strengthen and build engaging and open-minded leaders.