Last month my husband and I decided to drive cross-country along the I-40 corridor visiting friends and family as we finished up lobster season in south Florida and returned to Arizona. This was the first time in 30 years that I had no specific appointments to return to so, we indulged ourselves by visiting a few National Parks along the way. (Since I’ve been presenting the Greatness In Government Foundations of Leadership workshop at national parks over the last 2 years, I’ve become enamored of their mission beyond simply enjoying great scenery and interesting stories.) It was a visit to Washita National Historic Battlefieldin Cheyenne, OK that challenged me to open this topic.
If you are unfamiliar, Washita is the site of the battle that essentially broke the Cheyenne Nation and marked the beginning of end of the Native American way of life across the Great Plains. (If I have used politically incorrect verbiage here, please forgive me. I am not a scholar of Native American history and am grateful for those who study it in detail to help people like me better understand. I strongly encourage you to visit the Washita National Historic Battlefieldwebsite, if not the park itself, to learn more.)
There were many aspects of this visit that touched me deeply because they so closely parallel circumstances and events that we see in our world today. All along there were misunderstandings, broken promises, biased information, and hidden agendas on both sides leading to a massive loss of life and tectonic culture shift. There were also individuals on both sides who wanted, and worked for, a different, more peaceful and peaceable solution. Who made decisions coming from love in the context of the knowledge and experience they had at the time. There were also many who made decisions from fear and judgement.
The part that touches me most deeply is the questions it causes me to ask myself. At what point along the journey of the settler and the Native American, in what is now the United States, was the “first wrong” committed? What one thing, had it not happened, would have prevented the suffering? On which “side”? How far back does one have to go to find the place of “no blame”? Was it the government’s fault? The settler’s? The Dog Soldiers’? The Army’s? The Church’s? Everyone? No one?
And at the same time, how would our nation be different if the path had been different? How would the world be different? How would individuals’ lives be different now? Would they be better? Worse? That probably depends on which specific individual you are on any given day. And, the individual experience could be very different from the collective one. Which would we choose if we could go back and change something?
I don’t have an answer to any of those questions. I can’t find in my mind or my heart the one right answer. I’m not sure there is one, though there are many visitor cards on the bulletin board at Washita that profess otherwise. What I do know is it is ALL a part of our nation’s history and part of our collective human experience.
It is how we got here.
Now, we get to choose what happens next….collectively and individually. What meaning do you choose to give your past experiences, especially those that don’t feel good, either now or then? Does the meaning you choose bring you closer to or further from the highest and best version of you? And how do you know?
Thanks for sticking around to have the hard conversations.