Sometimes it’s funny how synchronicity rears its disturbing head.
It happened to me last week. On Monday, I became aware of the hoopla about Ben Affleck asking PBS to omit any reference to a long dead relation who was a slave owner.
Then, on Friday, I read an article in the Oxford University Press Blog about an Australian grammar school that is teaching its Third Years using Positive Education.
The dichotomy of these two stories struck me with the force of a thunderbolt.
Mr Affleck, who is, for all appearances, a tireless worker for human dignity, human rights, and forward thinking was so fearful of the potential ‘taint’ over this accidental of fate, that he inadvertently set this tempest in a teapot in motion.
Another article today in CNN asked, “Seriously, who in their right mind would want to be tarnished by the sins of an ancestor you had no connection to other than a remote bloodline?” Really?
When are we going to stop digging in the muck of the past and focus on the very real issues which so desperately need our attention today? Here we have a man who uses his celebrity to foster and promote good works in a dizzying number of causes. And his concerns are not limited to our nation. No, his concern is for humanity. His interests and efforts span the globe, seeking to bring dignity, equity, and opportunity to millions
of people, regardless of their ethnicity, creed, politics or whatever.
Ben Affleck is NOT his ancestor. He is a moral, upstanding man who happens to carry a scintilla of DNA from another person, in another time, and from a very different world. He should not have to worry about some narrow minded muckraker trying to use his accidental relationship to a long dead man to create their own 15 minutes of fame or percieved moral superiority. If you think about it, many of us might have less than savory antecedents. Anyone of us could be related to a truly reprehensible character of one sort or another.
Taking this line of thought a step further, it’s important to consider that slavery is an ancient institution. From the time that one person could impose their will upon another there has been a form of, if not actual, slavery. It is not an institution born of this nation. It’s taint has touched every corner of the globe at one time or another and still touches many of them today. We can know of Ben Affleck’s ancestor because the records relating to his activity were, by chance alone, preserved. But many of us could very well carry the same connection to former slave owners whether our roots are in America, the Middle East, Italy, Russia, China, Brazil, or wherever. It’s simply a caprice of fate that the records of our own “tarnish”, as the CNN writer called it, are unknown to us and the world.
I think it’s far more important that we look at who Ben Affleck is. Today. Here. Now. He is the antithesis of his ancestor. We cannot continue to define others and ourselves by what went before. We would do far better to ask ourselves who we are and who we are becoming. If we find failings then it is in all our interests to remediate them.
This is where the contrasting OUP Blog comes in. The Geelong Grammar School in Australia is working to teach its Third Year students in a positive way. Granted, it’s a posh academy but their approach bears examination. An up coming overnight class activity can seem pretty daunting to 8 and 9 year olds. So, in anticipation of this event, the school is bending the thrust of its curriculum to build excitement and confidence. Studies are not only talking about the animals and plants the students may encounter but also about how they have adapted to their environment.
Students are also tasked with thinking of and relating times when they have faced frightening challenges and come through them. The school is helping them learn that many of them have faced anxious times and either learned new skills (adaptation to their environment) or successfully passed through them. Either way, they are focusing on who the children are becoming; not who they were. The article’s author, toward the conclusion states, “Character strengths such as gratitude, curiosity, forgiveness, leadership, and spirituality, provide an underpinning framework for Positive Education and help to bring core learning to life for members of the school community of all ages.”
Shouldn’t we all be using the ‘character strengths’ of people like Mr. Affleck as examples for our own growth rather than creating false failings to make ourselves feel superior?