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  • Writer's pictureMary Ellen Johnson

What Really Pisses Me Off!

Lots of things bug me. The following is simply first on my list today.

Quit judging historical figures by contemporary standards!!

Hopefully, we have evolved since even twenty years ago (sexual harassment, treatment of blacks, attitudes toward LGBTs, medical treatments etc.. Just as we've devolved in other areas: Pensions! Retirement! Unions! Middle Class!)

The point being, for us to condemn our ancestors on the basis of today's mores is not only unjust, it's ignorant.

Columbus did terrible things to the Native Americans. By the standards of his day, pretty much the norm.

In the Middle Ages, women could be beaten until they were bathed in their own blood before the courts might step in. Few, if any females, (except in Historical Romances) ever said, "How barbaric! I must march in the streets to protest!"

The church sold indulgences that could get us into heaven and pray disease out of us. (Oh, that's right. We continue to have that today in evangelical circles and on the Christian Broadcast Network.)


Hangings, beheadings, hanging, drawing and quartering as punishment for those powerful figures who offended the king.

Jews poisoned wells, causing the Black Death.

Jews sacrificed and ate babies.

Jews had tails and emanated a terrible stench.

Doctors drilled holes in patients' heads to get rid of mental illness.

Richard the Lionheart played polo with the heads of his conquered enemies.

Blacks were three-fifths of a human being.

Every day in my research I come across examples that sometimes horrify me and sometimes amuse me but always interest me. Not up to me to make fun of them or say, "How stupid can these people be?"

They understood their world through the knowledge available at the time.

Someday things we take for granted will no doubt be looked upon as laughable or scandalous.

Such as:

Understanding of many diseases, as well as mental illness. And how best to treat them.

Some of our economic systems, such as capitalism.

Free markets.

Certain religious practices and beliefs.

I could go on and on and piss off all of those who will scour my writings to discern my political leanings so they can foam at the mouth. (Don't bother. Just read Eugene Debs, Upton Sinclair and Clarence Darrow and you've pretty much pegged me.)

Bottom line is we, like our ancestors, are products of our time. There are very few Leonardo da Vincis out there who straddle the centuries.

So, just as it would be nice if future generations would study us with objectivity, a knowledge of history, and--dare I ask--compassion, it would be nice if we could approach our ancestors the same way.

And we thought our ancestors were barbarians!

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