I’ve always had a bit of a fatal flaw as a historian, and perhaps as a person too. When it comes to the stories that I’m most drawn to and the historic figures I like best, I’m inevitably drawn to the underdog. Perhaps this comes of being of Scottish and Irish decent. Scottish stories are largely about defensive stands against desperate odds. Living next door to such a powerful southern neighbour takes some doing, I can tell you. (As a Canadian, I know this).
As for Irish history, it makes for almost unbearable reading sometimes. “So, things were really, really bad, and then they were horrible, and then they got even worse. And then they got a little bit of a cattle business going and then that was shut down……..”
And it’s only 1720 and I’m already so depressed that I can’t bear to go on.
I do my best to go for history for my lessons. History has a role in healing I believe but only if we tell the truth. And, I can’t be expected to make all of the mistakes myself, (though I take a damn good run at it). I can learn from others!
Anyway, what happened I think is that I developed a taste for the underdog early on … for the Irish and the Scots and the First Nations people here in North America and other people who were conquered and oppressed from around the world. Mary, Queen of Scots v. Elizabeth I? I was always, always on Mary’s side. I didn’t start learning about Napoleon until I was in my twenties and it was quite heady. Winning is so fun!
But what happened I think is that I developed a really ambivalent attitude towards winning and winners. Because viewed through a lens of history, the winners could often be viewed as the bad guys. (As someone of Scots, Irish and French decent that really means = English!).
I’m going through a time where I don’t feel like a winner. I’m not necessarily proud of my life. And I can see that I’ve been creating my life out of fear for a long, long time. There are all kinds of reasons for that but not so deep down there is the unsettled feeling that it’s not okay to win and be successful. That winners succeed at the expense of others. When it comes to history, I’ve always come down on the side of Charles Stuart and Crazy Horse. Really capable deserving people who got absolutely crushed.
But, now I want to be a winner. Can history have a role in teaching me how to do that so that other people can win, too? Who are winners from history who helped and listened to others and made their own times and places and families happier?
I have this feeling that ordinary people, not the kings and queens and halls of great men hold the answers to that.