Sam Burnham, Curator
In volatile times it is important that we keep a grasp on what really matters. Without going into drama, I’ll say that this hasn’t just been a volatile time in general. It’s been volatile personally. So I’m having to slow down and focus on the things that are foundational, what keeps me anchored, what really matters.
The great philosopher Roger Scruton said it this way: “Conservatism starts from a sentiment that all mature people can readily share: the sentiment that good things are easily destroyed, but not easily created.” Basically it’s a lot easier to destroy something beautiful than it is to create it. This makes sense as the wrecking ball moves much faster than the mason’s trowel or the artist’s brush.
It is the same with communities and relationships. After all, a community is nothing more than a web of relationships. The visible elements of a community, arts, architecture, institutions, all of it presents a visible form of the relationships that lie underneath. Therefore a town is built over decades of interconnected relationships of family, friends, and faith.
We are limited in our influence. There is only so much in life that we can control. We cannot expect our society to be healthy if our region is not healthy. We cannot expect our region to be healthy if our state is not healthy. We cannot expect our state to be healthy if our town is not healthy. We cannot expect our town to be healthy if our neighborhood is not healthy. And we cannot expect our neighborhood to be healthy if our home is not healthy. But there is really only one of these that we can effectively control: our own homes. Building a better society starts at home and then spreads outward.
“Conservatism starts from a sentiment that all mature people can readily share: the sentiment that good things are easily destroyed, but not easily created.” - Roger Scruton
Washington can not effectively change the state of poverty, inequality, racial strife, crime, whatever. First of all, they don’t want to change it because they use it to pander to their voting bases. More importantly, they are too far away and disconnected from all of our communities. I can’t change Washington. But I can mow my lawn, care for my family, foster meaningful friendships with people, and defend the beautiful things in my community. From there I can vote and be active in local issues. I can support fair businesses and avoid unfair ones. I can hold my local government accountable for how they treat my neighbors. We need to demand fairness, justice, opportunity.
But once there is damage, that’s hard to repair. Destruction breeds resentment and that’s not promoting unity. It doesn’t improve relationships. We’ve lived for many decades with different forms of inequity. We need to move away from that. But I’d suggest that the way we do that is to build, rather than destroy. Burning a building or toppling a monument won’t cure hate or poverty. Giving all citizens a fair shot at life in our society can. Society is a relationship. We have to build that relationship on trust and understanding.
Building that trust and understanding is like weaving a tapestry. It tells a story. We don’t need to destroy monuments. We need to add monuments that tell more of the story. Get the community involved through fundraising, identifying worthy subjects, and designing new markers and monuments. We don’t need to burn businesses. We need more people in business, building an economic future for their families. Build more monuments. Build more friendships. Build more families.
Protesters in Valdosta have suggested doing exactly that. They are asking to build monuments to tell more of the story, not destroy the monument that is there. Savannah has a monument to honor the Haitian soldiers who fought there during the American Revolution. The Tuskegee Airmen National Monument is one of the best sites we’ve visited. How many community, military, and cultural figures are there who could represent more of the story? This is the way. Unify, come together. Build bridges and connect our communities.
Now think about that as a metaphor in all our relationships.
All of our social endeavors, all of our engineering plans, all of our political action is worthless if we don’t build a strong foundation. That foundation starts at home. It is buttressed by friendship and strengthened by faith. We need to get our houses in order and work outward from there. It’s easy to complain about Washington but It’s another thing to restore order in the family room. It takes effort to build character in your children, to foster healthy relationships, to emotionally invest in things that matter. But the payoff can be enormous.
Our society was built this way. We need to open it up now and make sure it is accessible to all. We should not accept less than that. If enough of us commit ourselves to tending to our own spaces, our own relationships, we can make a real difference. Broaden that foundation. That’s good economically, socially, and politically. That makes a better future for us all. Family, faith, friends. Don’t tear down. Build.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire