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Minnich: What was that about ‘graven images’?

I read it in a book sometime that people should be wary of putting too much importance on “graven images.” There’s a lot in that book that is wise and, some say, sacred, but I’m not qualified to wade into all that. I just know common sense when I see it, even if the world is giving me fewer opportunities to practice that skill.

What made me sit down to write this is my confusion about why humans think they can change history by denying it. I have never understood that any more than I can understand how people can swallow whole the PR about what makes America great, without question or even thought.

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We seem hung up on arguing about the symbols, and word choices, and tone, instead of substance. And why take up space in your head being angry because of the behavior of others toward the flag, the Presidential Seal, the Statue of Liberty.

Powerful symbols are still just symbols for an ideal. It’s the ideal that matters, so let it go if others have another take on what it means. That attitude has brought me criticism from teachers and peers, but if I am as free as Lady Liberty’s symbolism indicates, so what? Live and let live.

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I don’t care if some show their love of justice and freedom by kneeling during a ceremony that — to them and some of their peers — has often been a mockery of their reality. I don’t have to kneel with them, don’t even have to like it, but I respect their freedom of expression. And I can agree there is some room for improvement.

For many older people, stories of the good old days included chapters on economic hardships, military service or the threat of the draft. Of loves and losses, changing mores and expectations, fresh starts and devastating crashes, starting over again, surviving the first lessons, and then keeping up with the changes in the rules — and everything else.

Keeping up with the changes is what separates many traditionalists from those who are intent on changing the future — or the past.

Those whose traditions include showing respect for the heroes of our history are now faced with watching the likenesses of heroes pulled from pedestals to crash and break in ignominy. They take it personally.

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That, I think, is part of the point.

Not everyone sees history the same way. Because not everyone lived the same history, any more than they share the same realities today, tomorrow, and the day after.

The movement to tear down any vestige of leaders of racist dominance isn’t about changing history. It’s about displaying scorn for the worship of graven images that represent half truths or outright lies.

For minority groups, the placement and ceremonies around the base of monuments of a history that includes the oppression of their ancestors is something they take personally, too.

It’s about waking up everyone to the fact that the icons of the old ways can not and shall not lead the way to the future.

Most of all, it’s about respect. Not just expecting it, sitting back and waiting for it. It’s demanding respect. Getting your attention.

But I worry. When I was a kid, I had trouble with a bully who liked to destroy anything that mattered to me. Adults told me he was just trying to earn my respect. It didn’t work.

Building the statues didn’t win over those who saw them as a taunt, a challenge. What makes us think that taking them down will be any different.

Seems to me we’d all be better off if we just ignored them for what they really are, relics of another day, and left them to serve as decorations, perches and depositories for the droppings of birds.

You can learn a lot by watching the birds.

Dean Minnich was a career journalist. He served two terms as a county commissioner. His email address is dminnichwestm@gmail.com.

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