Upon visiting Mount Rushmore in 1936, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said: “I think that we can perhaps meditate a little on those Americans 10,000 years from now, when the weathering on the faces of Washington and Jefferson and Lincoln shall have proceeded to perhaps the depth of a tenth of an inch, and wonder what our descendants — and I think they will still be here — will think about us.
“Let us hope that at least they will give us the benefit of the doubt, that they will believe we have honestly striven every day and generation to preserve for our descendants a decent land to live in and a decent form of government to operate under.”
When I heard these lines recited, I could only shake my head. Forget 10,000 years. Forget even 1,000 years. It’s not even 100 years since FDR’s comments, and benefit of the doubt has gone the way of the wind. Today, it’s all about raking our past leaders over the coals. What have become important are not the leader’s immense contributions but their failures and personal defects.
I’ve seen it happen to two of my personal heroes, Thomas Jefferson and Laura Ingalls Wilder.
No, our past leaders were not perfect. Yet, I cannot think of a single leader today who could hold a candle to those carved into Mount Rushmore.
Indeed, FDR’s choice of words — “benefit of the doubt” — are evidence of his wisdom. He understood that as time goes on, people view the past differently. He also understood Pirkei Avot’s counsel to judge favorably.
Unfortunately, today’s forms of communication seem to foment the exact opposite: Judge now, ask later.
Shana Goldberg may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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