There’s an old quote — attributed to Chinese philosophers for some reason, even though the exact origins are dubious — that wishes to the listener, “May you live in interesting times.” This wish is called the “Chinese curse.” Now, at first that might seem a little odd. Don’t we want to live in interesting times? But it doesn’t take much reflection to get what the quote actually implies.
Think back to the most recent history class you had. The parts that were interesting weren’t times of prosperity and peace. No, most people will say their favorite eras to study are wars, times of political discontent, times of change, revolution or rebellion. And even if you do prefer a time of prosperity and wellness, it’s usually the more “interesting” undertones that are studied — the questioning of society and values that occurs in most interwar periods, for instance, or the social changes that occur.
Interesting times are interesting in retrospect.
Maybe growing up, we wished for interesting times. “I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker (With Flowers in my Hair),” a 2005 song by Scottish singer Sandi Thom, expresses this sentiment. The singer reflects about how the modern world “doesn’t care” and how she wishes that she lived when “revolution was in the air.” And admittedly, most of us probably looked at our history books and wished that we could live during the Vietnam War protests, or during the 1920s or maybe even during the world wars. We told our parents this, perhaps, and they patted us on the back telling us we shouldn’t wish for war or rebellion and just be thankful that we were living in stable times.
Well, looks like those wishes — that curse — came true.
No matter what end of the political spectrum you come from, you cannot deny that these are “interesting times.” There were two sides during the 1970s, if you recall. At least two sides in every war, every rebellion. History decides the winners. Who “wins,” who turns out to be the “good” guys or the “bad” guys, which events will be significant or which ones we will remember — that’ll all come later. We’ll see it in our children’s history books. We will remember. They might point at controversial executive statements and marches on Washington, D.C., at stirrings of unrest in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, at dissent, at rebellion and ask us, “Were you there? What was it like?”
And to this, our dear readers, we ask you to think, we ask you to reflect, we ask you to have something you are proud of about this “interesting time” to tell your children. Look at how these events played out in the past — look at who we remember fondly, who we don’t, what we tell ourselves we should learn from and what we tell ourselves to stay away from. As a whole, society fails to learn from history time and time again, but as an individual, you can. You have the power to look back and decide on which side of history you want to fall.
These our interesting times, dear readers, but it’s up to you to decide how you remember them.