Tuesday, February 8, 2011

When Historical Knowledge Drowns out Knowledge of Self

Who am I? As a historian, it has taken me a lifetime to realize that the answer is not in the history books regardless how ethnically-correct they might be.
At the deepest level of my being, where it matters and means the most, no professor, no book, no mastery of “American History”, “Western Civilization”, “African History”, “Black History”, “Women’s History”, “Men’s History” can tell me who I really am. These disciplines are of course vital and valuable within their proper context. They can act as a guide pointing to where I must go -- alone. They can also serve as a counterbalance to the normative “White Male History”, which had rather despotically controlled the historical narrative until quite recently. My core identity resides deep within, rather than in an artificial construction of history. Not only this, but that identity is timeless and therefore ahistorical, occupying a realm beyond time and space.


I love my work as a historian, even while realizing that our western historical model is simply and surely flawed. The study of history has value and utility, but not for what we in the West characteristically use it for. It offers a thoroughly neutral record of humankind’s actions and behaviors. But, it is simply no wonder that the need for self-validation, which drives and characteristically distorts so much of historical study, generates such vicious, uncivilized and even venomous debate. For this “history” is merely an artifice, whose content shifts with the validation needs of its audiences in order to meet the demands of diverse constituencies within our highly externalized culture.

Educating for Wisdom (The Self-Awareness Model)

The tool of literacy, which underlies much but not all historical study, is a precious one, indeed. It offers us access to the extraordinary wonders of scientific discovery, to the conveniences of modern technology and to the accumulated human knowledge of the last 5,000 years. But in the complex world in which we live, should we really consider ourselves educated if all we can read are the alphabetic and numerical symbols printed on a page? For, it is self-knowledge alone, regardless of how many degrees we possess, that liberates us from being blindly led, manipulated or controlled by the raw power of our prejudices and emotional filters. And yet, apart from such disciplines as Jungian and depth psychology, Eastern and African philosophical systems, so alien has the concept of honing our emotional literacy been to western ears until quite recently, that we might as well have been referring to the “reading” of tea leaves or a wishbone from a KENTUCKY FRIED CHICKEN breast.

The most crucial need in our society is for our educational institutions to support and nurture the development of an integrated awareness of ourselves. Within academia we need to establish a greater balance between honing the tools of analysis while nurturing the intuitive skills of emotional intelligence and our own creativity. It becomes imperative that we balance a study of history’s great thinkers with the nourishing of our own expressive impulses. My West African ancestors emanated from an expressive culture, which understood at the deepest level of its being, that it is through the exercise of our creative impulses, within this ever evolving universe, that we open the gateway to self-knowledge, inner peace, harmony and our own divine nature.

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