I lived for awhile in Kenya back in the 1980s and was thrilled to have an avocado tree in my front yard. I was equally thrilled to discover a chameleon living in that tree.

When I shared my chameleon news with a Kenyan friend, he was horrified.

“Bwana,” he said. “That is very bad. The kinyonga (Swahili for chameleon) is evil. It brings misfortune.”

Because of that, he would never come near my tree nor eat avocados from it.

This underscored to me that compared to Maine, Kenya, was, indeed, a foreign country. It had a different climate, different animals, and different beliefs. Things were done differently there. I liked my resident chameleon, and I liked the avocados from my tree. However, out of deference to my friend, I would never pick nor eat the avocados when he was visiting.

My experiences in Kenya prepared me for the opening line of L.P. Hartley’s novel, The Go-Between, which says, “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”


The past is just as much a foreign country to those alive today as Kenya is to Maine.

People these days are quick to judge those from past eras, using 21st Century sensitivities. And they are quick to demonize those who went before if they don’t conform to our beliefs. This is called presentism. I hate presentism.

Merriam-Webster defines it as “an attitude toward the past dominated by present-day attitudes and experiences.”

I particularly hate presentism when it is applied to the founders of our nation. George Washington, for example. Presentism would have us ignore the good he did and, instead, vilify him for not meeting our modern standards of behavior in every aspect of his life.

I can do no better than quote from the website, Stuff Nobody Cares About (stuffnobodycaresabout.com.) concerning modern attacks on Washington that magnify his faults and ignore his accomplishments.

“This libel and slander will be done by political grandstanders, bogus scholars, and revisionists. Washington’s greatness will be dismantled by pseudo-activists and rabble-rousers who are unqualified to express an opinion, yet through the Internet and other media have their opinions spread far and wide as unchallengeable ‘truth.’


“It will be accomplished through our primary, secondary, and post-secondary school systems who emphasize colonial inequity and ignore true contributions, heroism, and sacrifice.

“It will come from those who have not actually studied or read George Washington’s words first-hand.

“It will seep from ignoramuses who have sparse knowledge and limited intellect to understand George Washington’s impact or his life and times. Washington’s flaws will be magnified, his accomplishments wiped out.”

I wish I had written that, and I thank the website for giving me permission to quote it.

George Washington, of course, is not the only founding father to be treated in this fashion by dim-sighted proponents of presentism.

Times change. People change. Beliefs change. We should learn from our past and make better choices, but not try to apply today’s standards to past conditions.

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