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We are facing a major growing pain in current society.  We seem to be unable to deal with issues from the past through the lens of our current societal norms.

In an article from CNN, “Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name has been stripped from a prestigious book award because of racist themes,” we are rejecting the good works of an author because she spoke in the vernacular of her times.

This is a dangerous lesson to teach our children. When I explored my family history, I found that my ancestors were a part of the slave trade one hundred years before the Civil War. I do not suffer guilt for having been a descendent of slave-owners.  I celebrate the progress our country has made to improve equality.  Our founders acknowledged in 1783 the coming challenges in the Preamble to the Constitution with the words, “in Order to form a more perfect Union”

It is unrealistic to assume that we will ever achieve a perfect union just as it is unrealistic to hold our ancestors to the standards we have already achieved. As a child grows, we make marks on the wall to indicate progress just as we collect the art, history and stories of our past. We should not erase those marks. They are our institutional memory and they remind us not to make the same mistakes. It is a teachable moment to educate young readers that in the past, the process of forming a more perfect union includes remembering that the good people of the past did bad things by todays standards. Not only does a child learn right from wrong, but so does society.

In trying to erase Laura Ingalls Wilder from our institutional memory, should we also erase Walt Disney whose movies and cartoons contained the racist vernacular?  Should we erase Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb from the Major League Record book because they never played against African-Americans?  Should we erase Abraham Lincoln from our history because he spoke these words in the Stephen Douglas debates, “I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races?”

In order to form a more perfect union, we must look at these events from the past as benchmarks of our progress.  We must also realize that the events of today will plant the benchmarks of progress toward our future.

On a related note, we are now going through a transition in the workplace.  It is no longer acceptable to treat men and women as other than fair and equal colleagues without regard to gender. As more offenses come to light, we feel free to condemn and reject those who have committed offenses in the past.  There should be no statute of limitations for this condemnation of criminal acts from the past.  Forgiveness of non-criminal acts should be earned.  But we are a forgiving society and there should be a road forward for those whose bad behavior was only in the distant past.

We must keep the marks on the wall that indicate our growth. We must erase the bad behavior in the present. Most importantly, we must  keep the memories of the past both good and bad.

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