On the past or thanks for this blog Emmanuel Jal

30 12 2012

I have been at home (in Slovakia) these days and several times I’ve encountered various situations all with the same denominator. Past! And you know, I can tell you, I am a bit bothered by the way we treat our past. We treat it as something sacred and determinable.

I have heard many times that it is good to know the history to learn and avoid mistakes and I take it. Definitely. But if it starts generating fear and worries and what is worse if it preventively generates protective behavior that often leads to harming others or oneself – then knowing the past is not useful whatsoever.

We, human beings, like to cling on past. It’s our safety net. It’s something that often justifies our actions. It’s something we build our identity on that in turn leads either to shame or pride. And for that I lack understanding. Why to be ashamed for someone or because of someone who was born in the same area as I just 1000 years ago and happened to take a very bad decision. I have nothing to do with that dude. As I do not have anything to do with another dude who invented something spectacular and was born just 100 km from the place my parents happened to settle down and start their family.  

This blog is initiated by a FB status update of Emmanuel Jal, an artist, human rights activist and former child soldier. I have seen his performance at TED and he got my attention right away. A smart guy spreading a very nice message through art of music.

His FB status says following: 

“The worst thing that happen to Africa its, not Colonialism ,slavery ,resources being looted or Genocides but the stolen history. They Said King TuT DNA is European, But the same DNA is in Africa too.. It could be true , since egypt was invaded by different kingdoms..what about king Targah is his DNA European too ? for people to gain confident to move forward history is important”


And I ask: What does it matter? What does it matter that a king was African, that Napoleon was French, that Nelson Mandela comes from South Africa or Mother Theresa was Albanian (some would argue here). Why do we have such a huge need to “own” those guys? Their actions mattered and have consequences even today but their origin could not matter less.

I was born in Slovakia but I do not feel like Slovak. I do not know how it feels like. Some could argue that I should thank Slovakia for who I am. For the education I got, for the possibilities I had in life. But I do not thank Slovakia because not everyone born in Slovakia had the same chances as I had thus it has nothing to do with the state. I am thankful to the people who were and have been in my life and formed it, gave me chances and trusted me.

The sport successes of Slovak athletes do not make me a better person. The Nobel peace price of the EU does not automatically turn all the EU citizens into dove of peace either.

If we do not stick to our national/continental/racial etc identities, it’s less probable that we will feel hurt if someone “attacks” them or tries to take parts of them away. 

So I ask. And what? What does it change in our life to learn that Tutankhamun was European? To me it means nothing. And my day won’t get brighter tomorrow because of that. 

What would happen if someone told me that Milan Rastislav Stefanik (you pick a name of a “significant” personality and replace it) was Polish? Or that Bono has slovak blood circulating in his body. You get my point right?

To know the history to understand how something has developed is great but if we find out that the history we learnt is different, it is OK because it won’t change the present moment anyway. It’s ourselves who can change the present. We often don’t, because we like “It’s always been like that” even when we are not happy with that. It’s often safer to struggle through a day knowing what will happen than start anew clueless about the next hour. But I think that we create our new past every single new second of our lives, which means, we can form it and change it and we can break free from the past that hunts us or that makes us going through the life on an autopilot. That way we do not need to feed our egos with the past of others. We can walk free from that and build our identity on our own actions instead. Our own actions that we know we can live in peace with.