While surfing the ‘net the other day I ran afoul of the brouhaha being generated (at least at the time, anyway) over Ben Affleck and the leaked emails that he pressured PBS execs to suppress the fact that his ancestors owned slaves. When I first read it, I shrugged and more or less said, “Yeah, and? They owned slaves.” (My ancestry is German. You may remember the Germans; feared barbarians, major influence/cause of 2 World Wars, and if nothing else, talk to Publius Quinctilius Varus and ask him about that incident in the Teutoburg Forest. I mean, really.)
At first blush, his reasoning sounds simple to discern and, indeed, is the conclusion a great many have jumped to; he’s a privileged, rich movie star and so he doesn’t want any icky entanglements with past doings because they may tarnish his image. I don’t know of any thinking, reasoning person who would judge him (or anyone) based on what their ancestors did, but I digress. I believe that this situation illustrates a deeper idea, though, shown in the image attached to this post. Your story MATTERS, but it doesn’t DEFINE you. In this case, his ancestors owned slaves. O.k. He wasn’t there. He had no way of saying neither Jack nor Squat about it. It doesn’t define who he, Ben Affleck, is, today. His actions regarding it, however, do – and have, to a great many people. By trying to hide it or cover it up, whatever his reason, he’s tarnished himself in the eyes of many because of how his actions appear.
Had I the chance, though, I would say the same to Mr. Affleck that I say to any of my readers and, indeed, remind myself of; namely the fact that for any one of us, our past is just that – it’s our PAST. It’s what we’ve done. We can’t undo it, we can’t call it back, and we can’t change it. Our past matters, for reasons both good and bad, however. If it matters for good, it’s because we’ve chosen to learn from it, make changes in our lives to not repeat it, or perhaps avoid situations in which we made poor choices in the first place. If it matters for bad, however, it’s because we’ve chosen (again, it’s a choice) to let it hamper us, hold us down, and mire us there. Many times that’s done through feelings of guilt, or shame, or unfortunately, by feelings of false guilt or shame that are put on us by others. I said it before, and I’ll say it again – YOUR PAST DOESN’T DEFINE YOU.
Where are you today, friends? Has this hit home, perhaps? Made you think? Called to mind some dig that comes to you from time to time about something that you cannot change, but yet carry with you? If so, let me give you some encouragement – you CAN change it, RIGHT now, starting today. All it takes it a choice. The initial step that begins the work to free you from that is a choice – the choice that says “I’m a product of my past, as we ALL are, but I’m not DEFINED by it and I don’t have to keep carrying it with me.”
Let me leave you with some lines of verse by the Roman satiric poet known to us as Juvenal. The lines have often come to me and made me think, and I hope they do for you as well:
Trust me, no tortures which the poets feign,
Can match the fierce, the unutterable pain
He feels, who night and day, devoid of rest,
Carries his own accuser in his breast.
Whatever it takes – whatever you may need to do, stop carrying that accuser. Find a friend, get some help, if necessary, sidestep that person who just can’t seem to resist reminding you of who you were. Even God doesn’t care where you’ve BEEN, it is said – He only cares where you’re GOING. 🙂 Forgive yourself, and let yourself go on and LIVE!
God bless, today, my friends.