Political commentator Angela Rye often asks fellow commentators, “What side of history do you want to be on?” Indeed, it is a critical question, one that the respondent may not be able to answer at the moment. And I don’t think Angela expects them to answer that question right then and there. The question is a growing-pain moment. It is injected into the conversational atmosphere and hangs there.
I believe Angela seriously wants them to think about it. Meditate on it. Search their insides and reflect on what they say they believe and the policies they advocate. This doesn’t mean that critical self-reflection will lead you to a different place. But critical self-reflection should lead you to a deeper place—and hopefully a more informed place—on important issues. This question has continued to resonate in me regularly. And so now, I pose it to you, dear reader. Dear mother, father, sister, brother, uncle, auntie, pastor, rabbi, imam, or teacher, I ask you, “What side of history do you want to be on?”
You don’t need to have a well-thought-out answer right now. But it should be a question that you begin thinking about and perhaps revisit from time to time. It is a question we should all think about to help us make better decisions about how we are going to navigate this watershed moment in history—not simply on a societal level but also on a daily personal level.
Your decision to inform yourself, learn more, and figure out how to engage difference is important. Do not take it lightly. Some people would rather stick their heads in the sand and hope that this moment in time blows over. It won’t. As a matter of fact, it will never ever be the same again. This is crucial. There are critical moments in history, and we are definitely in one such moment. It is imperative to think about where you stand in it—where you want to stand in it. Once the moment passes, what you could have or should have done won’t matter. In fact, it will be irrelevant. All that matters is what actions you engage in to be better in the present and move forward.
Our children and their children will inherit what we do—or do not do. So, in the words of Angela Rye, I ask again, “What side of history do you want to be on?”
I know I would like to be on the side of history that says something, that makes a difference—not just in word but also in deed—and that gives my children, and others, the tools they need to navigate this already-here, right-now society.
teaches preaching at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary and is a minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Y. Joy Harris-Smith
is a New York special education teacher and full-time lecturer in Speech Communication in Ministry at Princeton Theological Seminary.