This monument at Beale Springs is just one piece of the puzzle. More pieces are needed if the picture is to be seen with clarity.

For the Hualapai people it is a somber place, a place associated with tragedy. But it is also an historic location linked to America’s evolution as a nation.

To see the entire picture with clarity you must assemble each piece of the puzzle in the box. If you only use the pieces needed to complete what you assume to be the sky, you will never realize that it was the lake.

In a nutshell, history is often taught with only the pieces needed to complete the picture that we want to see. And in turn that is how many politicians twist history to sell an agenda, foster divisions, and appeal to a base. If history is factually presented, as uncomfortable and challenging as that may be, we blur the line and develop a clearer picture.

History should be taught in a manner that encourages people to reconcile and move beyond seeing themselves as victims, or their community in the context of us versus them. It should be presented so we learn from the mistakes and successes of the past.

Located less than two miles from Route 66 in Kingman, Arizona, Beale Springs is a desert oasis that encapsulates the current battle over how history should be taught. There are two monuments at the entrance. Both tell an opposing story. Both are accurate.

Together they clarify the picture of Arizona in the mid 19th century. Taken individually they present a picture that is distorted and inaccurate.

There is an old parable about blind people trying to describe an elephant. None of them were aware of what the animal is or its shape and form. And so they begin inspecting it by touch. The first person slid his hands along the trunk and determined that it was a thick snake. Another felt the ear and declared it a fan. The one who felt the leg said it was like a tree-trunk. The blind man who felt its side said it was a wall and another who felt its tail, described it as a rope.

The trouble begins when they compare notes but from the perspective that each has come to the right conclusion. From that rigid perspective suspicions grow that the other person is being dishonest in an effort to force their opinions and conclusions. And the parable ends with them coming to blows.

The moral of the story is simple. People have a tendency to claim absolute truth based on a limited, subjective, narrow focused experience. They ignore other peoples absolute truth that they have developed through equally limited subjective experiences.

History, unlike religion or philosophy, is rooted in hard fact. And as a result truth can be learned. But that requires moving beyond the comfort zone. And it requires moving beyond the trunk, tail or leg.

 

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