Driving home from PorcFest this evening, I noticed that on I-91, Vermont has combined traditional exit numbers with the new distance-based exit numbers mandated by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). For example, one of the exits is marked Exit 18/Milepoint Exit 120. This seemed like a nice way to combine the old and the new.
And I wondered: Why couldn’t we do something like this with statues? That is, instead of pulling the old ones down, it might make more sense to erect new ones next to them. That way, instead of trying to erase history, we’d be adding to it. Instead of pretending that things that make us uncomfortable never happened, we’d be facing up to them.
For example, instead of tearing down a statue of Robert E. Lee — who, for better or worse, played an important part in how we got to where we are — we might erect a second statue, of someone like Frederick Douglas, or Rosa Parks. The juxtaposition would be a reminder that, even though things aren’t yet where we’d like them to be, there has been significant change.
And if we are going to start renaming cities, as some have suggested, perhaps we could start using the hyphenated notation that some people use when they get married, so we might have cities named St. Louis-Tubman, Missouri, or Columbus-Floyd, Ohio, or Washington-Dubois, New Hampshire.
For an individual, or a society, the difference between moving forward, and moving in circles, is largely one of remaining aware of where you’ve been — of keeping your mistakes squarely in your view so you can be mindful of the direction you’re trying to move in. Hiding your mistakes, or denying that they ever occurred, may feel good in the short run; but in the long run, it’s a recipe for guaranteeing that you’ll make them again in the future.