McCAULEY: Let head rule decisions on memorials

September 2, 2017

viewpoint-mcauley-michael.jpgWhen we allow ourselves to be ruled by emotions, we lose the rightful balancing the mind provides. Generally, emotions should only fuel the fire to help move us to action—passionate action that helps to accomplish our goals. Mind should lead emotions. Inverting this equation leads to subjective—not clear-thinking, objective—decision-making. That is, the inability to even see or evaluate another’s perspective. 

When I first went to Jackson, Mississippi, to teach sculpture at a private university, I was surprised to see the Confederate army battle flag included as part of the flags flying over the state capitol. To me, this was a symbol of one of the main reasons for secession—the freedom to keep black slaves as mere property. Should Mississippi residents continue to parade this over their governing body? Though it is indeed part of America’s history, for me, the state’s museum would have been the logical place for this Confederate symbol. Or at least a logical compromise

Indiana University then had its own decision to make concerning the American artist Thomas Hart Benton’s murals in Woodburn Hall on the Bloomington campus. They depict the history of change in the Midwest, from farming to participation in the industrial movement. They also include a scene of the KKK. For me, this was clearly not promotion, but was a truth-telling of our history. And not all truth is positive. But the difference here is, Indiana University is an educational institution where dialogue and seeking understanding through dialogue are to be celebrated. Enhancing the mind through objective facts is promoted. And facts are not always easy, or pleasant.

It was decided the mural would stay.

Now, with the recent destruction of a Confederate Soldiers Monument in Durham, North Carolina, these also represent part of American history. It is obvious the vigilantism that moved the frenzied mob to tear down the Confederate soldiers’ bronze statue was the result only of uncontrolled emotion—not objective dialogue, debate and reason.

This reflects the same hot, unthinking passion from the other side of the coin that moved whites of the South toward lynching. Emotions ruled, not logic. The dialogue should be: Are the monuments promoting the position of the rightness of slavery or merely representing the loss of life in this dark part of our history and the deadly cost of the conflict?

If not, the fog of subjective emotion will never get to the heart of this discussion. And therefore, no clear-headed compromise can be reached. Only objective seeking of purpose, and truth, should rule the answer. And compromise should always be on the table.

No matter the issue—when one avoids the protections of this “universal truth” of employing the right, or rightful, balance of objective mind over emotion in reason and dialogue, the result will usually be followed with great regret.•


McAuley is an Indianapolis figure sculptor, vice president of the Indiana Artists Club and owner of Livingston Designs Sculpture Studio.

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