What if we perceived history as fluid, like a river, rather than fixed, like stone?
What if, instead of assuming we already know everything about a subject, we assume there's more to uncover?
What if we ask ourselves whether we're willing to explode preconceived notions and revise history based on new information?
While the internet has unleashed a Pandora's box of misinformation and provided a playground for flat-earthers, anti-vaxxers and other conspiracy theorists, it also offers a platform from which to deliver discoveries and truths - it's where we learn about new cancer drugs, political developments and where we keep up with trivia about royals or celebrities.
We can also learn new facts about historical figures and people who are still with us.
I recently learned that contrary to what I'd heard all my life, Rosa Parks was not an elderly woman who refused to cede her bus seat in 1955 to a white man in the American South. The story passed down for generations was that Parks had had a long day at work and her feet hurt.
"People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired," wrote Parks in her autobiography, "but that isn't true. I was not tired physically… No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in."
Parks was 42 when she performed an act of civil disobedience credited for fueling the American civil rights movement. While my teenagers think anyone over 30 is elderly, Parks was hardly the grey-haired granny many of us imagined. Nor was she an accidental activist - she held a position as secretary of her local NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People) and had already taken issue with the same bus driver when she resisted the rule for blacks to enter through the back door.
Too often, rather than gleaning something uplifting about historical or present-day heroes, we learn their deeds were discouraging or downright painful. I grew up watching comedian Bill Cosby as "America's Dad" on The Cosby Show and was disgusted to hear one woman after the next explain how the star had drugged and raped her. More than 50 women accused Cosby of sexual assault or rape but due to time limits on cases in the US, only one woman took the case to criminal court. Cosby was convicted of sexual assault. According to the BBC, "some of his stand-up shows were called off and protesters showed up to the ones that he still put on".
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"His statue was removed from the MGM Hollywood Studios park in Florida, and several colleges removed honorary degrees they had given him."
It's uncomfortable to learn damning information about someone you once admired. It leaves me with an icky feeling and more questions, like, can I appreciate the art - movies, TV, music, visual art, etc…of someone whose conduct was criminal or morally bankrupt? I used to laugh at comedian Louis C.K.'s jokes but have felt too guilty to watch his act after he admitted in 2017 to several incidents of sexual misconduct. He confessed wrongdoing, yet critics say he hasn't apologised.
At least no one has erected a C.K. statue.
In the wake of recent police killings of black people in America, protesters worldwide are pulling down statues of white explorers and conquerors - men who were at best, colonialist and at worst, racist.
NZME earlier this month reported, "in Aotearoa/New Zealand hundreds of statues depicting colonial history are scattered across the country with little or no balance with Māori history, along with streets and places even named after slave traders who never set foot here".
Hamilton's city council removed a statue of Captain Hamilton in the civic square last week after a formal request and pledge to tear it down.
We make mistakes. We learn of others' misdeeds and if they're horrible enough, question their entire character.
Gisborne leaders last year pulled down a statue of Captain James Cook following decades of protests and petitions for its removal. Ngāti Oneone spokesman and artist Nick Tupara said Cook had only been depicted as a heroic figure, "and selectively taught about in the curriculum, editing out things like the diseases and abuse and killings his crew brought through the Pacific. His connections with slavery are also rarely discussed".
Installing a statue is the community equivalent of having a loved one's name inked on your forearm. You're proud of the emblem until a painful break-up when you must decide whether to keep history on display, cover or remove it. We make mistakes. We learn of others' misdeeds and if they're horrible enough, question their entire character. Turns out, they were not the kind of person we wanted on a pedestal - in our minds or on a granite slab. Whether we want to wear them forever as a sign of implicit approval is just one question we should ask.
Another is how many statues of white men do we need? Should monuments be representative of a population? What about people of colour, including women and children?
Should we spend money earmarked for bronze figures on feeding the hungry instead? Or can we have our cake memorials and eat them, too?
Removing monuments is not about erasing history. It's about having a richer understanding of context and culture. It requires discussion where locals decide, case by case, whether someone's likeness belongs in the town square, in a museum, or on the scrap heap.
No simple answers. Only questions that take time and sometimes, discomfort, to answer.