A lot has been being written about Christopher Columbus’ place in history as an heroic figure. Reexamining the perspective he and his culture had toward “discovery” of the New World has prompted a number of western states to rename Columbus Day “Indigenous People’s Day”. The question for us is: Do we approach our lives with the same perspective and do we need to retune it?
So what was Columbus’ perspective when he took off from Spain?
- He desired to spread his religious beliefs. The Catholic Church of the time (the only Christian community in the West until 1521 and the Protestant Reformation) viewed non-Christians as fair game for conversion either by the word or by the sword.
- He felt culturally superior. Western European kingdoms wealthy enough to send out explorers into the world at this time worked out of a perspective that they had reached the pinnacle of human development and had a “right” to bring “civilization” to the rest of the world.
- He sought wealth for king and country. This meant that any natural resources found in new lands were ripe for the plundering, since now the king would claim sole ownership of any place on which Columbus planted the Spanish flag.
The rest is history. Columbus’ perspective, which was widely held (and some say is still widely held by governments throughout the world), eventually led to slaughter, genocide, enslavement, and ethnic cleansing of most of the Western Hemisphere. The many native tribes and civilizations found by the Spanish, Portuguese, and English soon almost completely disappeared. They were replaced by transplanted Europeans, African slaves, and the often forced interbreeding of races and ethnicities.
Is it possible that many of us are still operating with Columbus’ perspective?
- Have we examined our values and the ways in which we bring them into our lives to influence others? Are they values we actually admire or are we simply on “auto-pilot” and in need of some soul-searching adjustment?
- How might we be expressing superiority over others? The recent story of a news anchor being criticized for being overweight by a viewer clearly was a case of superiority being used to cover for serious feelings of inferiority. Might that be our case?
- In what ways is our striving for wealth taking away from others rather than building the prosperity of the entire human community. How does our parochialism hurt others?
The roots of Columbus’ perspective can be found in humanity at any time in history. We are not responsible directly for the results of his actions. We are, however, responsible for how our life perspective helps us to build the human community today.
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