Thomas Friedman’s Obama On The Nile – Letting The Future Bury The Past

Posted on June 12, 2008


What makes New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s op-ed posts interesting, to me, is that his global (flat) perspective allows us to glimpse a little bit of a bigger picture that many others simply cannot provide.

Why is this important?

Because life is a simultaneous tension between “individualness” and interconnectedness. Humanity, in order to be more human, must be dedicated and committed to the self (self-interests, self-preservation, etc.) while at the same time being willing and able to see reality through the lens of others with whom we are connected. Both must be embraced, contrasted and compared with each other, and evaluated for making considerations and decisions about life and faith and all that encompasses existence. That is, if we are committed to the fullness of reality and the value of truth in our world.

And as Friedman has already written about extensively, the boundaries and barriers that have once segregated the global community are fading fast.

So, below I’ve reflected on one article, hopefully contributing positively to the global conversation.

OBAMA ON THE NILE – The Past Buries The Future

It seems that the American community needs to be reminded of a few things every now and then.

One, that this country provides opportunities unlike no other, in spite of the fact that there are still people here who are utterly intolerant of any differing creed, belief, or opinion in their thinking. That is an amazing paradox of existence, and we should be thankful that though our system doesn’t work the way we want it to all the time, what it has created is phenomenal, and what is happening now in the political scene is historic. I’m reminded of Winston Churchill’s quote,

Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried.

How does this happen? Perhaps something in the collective psyche of the American mind? Friedman noted that in the Middle East (at least in Egypt, though I would attest, given my travels there that this is a common theme),

…the past always buries the future, not the other way around.

I believe most of us would consider that ethic to be dehumanizing and destructive. Who wants to move one day forward knowing that our past not only haunts us, but pins us to the ground? However, if we invert that value-system, we find something powerful and beautiful (and with hardly any need for complex paradigm-shifting, philosophical Judo). What if the world operated by,

…letting the future bury the past?

Perhaps this is what has given so much steam to the campaign of “hope” we’ve heard so much about. Perhaps this is the ethic that makes the “idea” of America so great. Perhaps this is not an invention of the United States, but rather a profound truth about the very nature and essence of humanity.

There is something spiritually powerful about the teachings found in the Scriptures, especially in Jesus, in light of that culture. How much more powerful the statements of love, peace, redemption, and especially forgiveness in a world that buries your future because of the things you’ve done in the past. How radical and amazing that teaching is, and how contrary to the natural instincts of our primordial urges. There is a powerful lesson to be learned, as mentioned above, both on an individual scale and global. Burying the past in light of the future makes for great personal, individual spirituality and great global politics at the same time.

And one more question. What if we demanded that ethic to be exemplified first, not by others for us, but by ourselves towards others, loving our neighbor as we would love ourselves?