Can We Heal From Our Collective Past?

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Queen Elizabeth II

Can We Heal From Our Collective Past?

 

I recently made a post on social media in honour of Queen Elizabeth II, after her passing, to pay my respect for her and further asking for people to be respectful, even if they don’t understand her importance in the world or why so many around the world mourn her passing. Many were indeed respectful and wrote very positive things about the Queen, but there were a number who got offended that I called her a “light” in the world, and a few of the comments were anything but respectful. A couple people had clearly bought into conspiracy theories, but the majority of those who opposed her saw her as the main figurehead of the “British Empire'' and some went so far as to say she was therefore the primary person responsible for all damage done to peoples of other nations as a result of colonialism. This theme has not just shown up on my social media feed, but all over the internet on various social media and other media platforms since the Queen’s death. Given how much criticism there is in this direction, it warrants a deeper look. 

After giving this topic some thought and investigating it further, I’d like to clarify a few things. First of all, I never said that colonialism is a conspiracy theory. The conspiracy theories I was referring to in my comments on the post were towards the people who make claims about “blue blood reptilians” who “eats children”, or that the Queen is a Nazi because she has German ancestry, etc. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and I have seen no credible evidence to validate such claims. Just because someone makes accusations, does not make it true. Just because someone has German ancestry, it does not make them a Nazi. And in fact the Western Allies that included the British Crown, the Commonwealth, the USA, and many others around the world fought against the Nazi’s in WWII.

 

On The Topic Of Colonialism

 

As for colonialism, for sure there is a brutal history in our world and many have suffered from that brutality. Many atrocities have been committed globally, yes, by the British Empire, and also by so many nations and tribes at some point in time around the world. Colonization, wars, forcing people into slavery, putting people in concentration camps, torturing, dehumanizing, raping…, all of these things that people have committed against other people are atrocious. Human history has many dark times, and all of us have ancestors somewhere in our lines that we could point fingers at for their misdeeds and brutality. But to pin all of colonialism on Queen Elizabeth II and say that she was the cause of millions of people’s suffering and deaths because she was the Queen over the last 70 years, that I don’t agree with. It’s a far more complex issue than that, and to place all the blame onto one person is a gross oversimplification.  

 

While the pain and wrong doings of the past are very real, we must be careful in our search for healing, and making amends to not take all of our anger, hurt, and blame and project it onto one person (therefore oversimplifying complex and multi-faceted realities). Equally, it is important that we don’t make mass generalizations, such as “all people of a particular skin colour or race are _____ (fill in the blank).” Such mass generalizations only lead to further separation, racism, sexism, polarization, and the list goes on… all of which leads to further evils being perpetrated down the line.  

 

The place we should be putting our focus is on whether we can come to terms with our past, whether we can heal from it, learn the mistakes of the past so we don’t repeat them, and then put it behind us so we can move on to create a better future. Clinging to the past and applying the standards of today to the actions and mindsets of the past is a no-win situation. We cannot change what happened in the past. We can only accept it as part of what brought us to today, learn from it, forgive it so that we can move on, and yet allow previous events to be a reminder of what happens when we allow our shadow side to rule us. And when it comes to coming to terms with past events, we must also realize and remember that there are many sides to any story or unfolding of events. They are usually far more complex than how we remember it from a 1-sided view or perspective.  

 

Let’s look at a few facts and details regarding colonialism during the time of the British Empire.  The East India Company that was responsible for so much colonization was founded in 1600 by wealthy merchants, traders, and industrialists as a joint-stock company (aka a large corporation), and it was dissolved in 1874. It had its own private armed forces (aka mercenaries for hire). And yes, they committed many egregious acts that stemmed from racist beliefs. But not all the colonizers were racist and not all of what they brought to those countries was bad. There were many pros and many cons. For example, some of the pros that came include improved health care, literacy through education, agricultural advancements, enhanced civilization and standards of living, improved women’s rights, to name a few.   

 

This time of colonization by the British Empire was largely undertaken way before Queen Elizabeth II was even born in 1928. In the years surrounding her birth, between 1926-1931, major reforms were already happening to give the countries that were once declared as colonies, the freedom of again being nations that were “equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs.” The former colonies transitioned to being a Commonwealth through choosing to still alliance themselves with the Crown, yet each having their own sovereign rights and self-governance as nations. Within a few years after WWII ended, the “British Empire'' had pretty much disintegrated. 

The nations of the Commonwealth are united by their voluntary connection with the Crown, and they have the freedom to break their alliance with the Crown by choosing as a nation to either pledge allegiance to a different monarchy line, or to become a republic that is completely independent of any monarchy. For example, in the 1950’s and 60’s many African nations chose this route of independence, and honouring this choice, Queen Elizabeth II herself oversaw the liberation of all the former British colonies in Africa during her time as monarch. Many countries even opt to still be members of the Commonwealth after becoming republics (such as India and recently Barbados). And then there are countries that have joined the Commonwealth by their own volition, even though they were never part of the British Empire or colonies. Why? Well, there must be some benefit to those countries, such as trade, protection, and greater overall prosperity. If there weren’t enough benefits to those countries to continue belonging to the Commonwealth, they would have all left it a long time ago. And some might still opt out now that Queen Elizabeth II has passed, but the key here is that each country has its own sovereign right to CHOOSE whether they continue to be part of the Commonwealth or not. 

 

Queen Elizabeth II and the Monarchy

 

Elizabeth II only became Queen in 1952 and was not coronated until mid 1953. She inherited a very complex position at a young age of 25, and it was not one that she particularly wanted, nor was she originally in line for that position, yet she stepped into the duty and responsibility and did her best to serve with honour. As a young Queen, on Christmas Day of 1953, she expressed her personal view and belief of what the Commonwealth was about, an ideal that she was very devoted to. She said: “The Commonwealth bears no resemblance to the empires of the past. It is an entirely new conception built on the highest qualities of the spirit of man: friendship, loyalty, and the desire for freedom and peaceTo that new conception of an equal partnership of nations and races I shall give myself heart and soul every day of my life.”

 

Personally, every time I read or hear messages from the Queen, in her own direct words, I feel the light they carry. She delivered messages of hope, unity, peace, being stronger together, perseverance, inspiration, and so forth… messages that uplifted the spirit of humankind. As an individual she held light within her. That’s not to say that the “establishment” of the Crown itself, the institution, is of light. Those waters are murkier. But, as the old saying goes, “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”  

 

As stated, Queen Elizabeth II inherited a very complex position and situation, at a very dark time in human history, in the aftermath of WWII. In addition to this, what many people don’t understand (and it has taken me some time to wrap my head around this as an American), is that there is a difference between the “establishment” that controls the Crown, and the members of the Royal Family, including whoever the monarch is. 

 

This was not always the case, but the power of the British monarchy really started to disintegrate after the English Civil War (1642-1651), which resulted in the beheading of King Charles I, the exile of his family and heirs, and the establishment of a brief republic under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell. This civil war was in response to many years of tyranny, religious persecution, and oppressive rule by certain monarchs (but not all monarchs). Yet, after Cromwell’s death, it was decided by Parliament and the people that the best way forward was to restore the monarchy. 

 

In 1660, through the English Restoration, the leaders of the English Commonwealth at the time (aka England, Scotland, Ireland) recalled Charles II from exile (heir of the Stewart line) to the throne. But this came with conditions that curtailed the monarch’s decision-making power with regards to taxation, military action, religious tolerance, and Parliamentary affairs. This basically stripped the monarchy of many of its previous powers to govern or set the rules, and placed those in the hands of Parliament. 

 

Over the passing of time and many generations, the position of the monarch continued to soften and transition into more of a symbolic role based on tradition, rather than one of any real decision-making power.  Today, the monarchy undertakes various ceremonial, diplomatic, and representational duties, but they are limited in function to: bestowing honours, approving the chosen/elected Prime Minister to form a government, remaining non-partisan, and the monarch is able to advise in private audience with the PM to change or draft laws (but cannot mandate them). In many respects the monarch’s hands are tied and they must operate within the structure and parameters of Parliament and “the establishment”, who advise and basically tell the monarch what to do.  Of course, they have their own will and can put their foot down when really pushed against their conscience (such as when Queen Elizabeth II did with PM Margaret Thatcher), but that is rare in the modern monarchy. 

 

Let’s Come Back To Some Examples Of The Damages Done From Colonialism:

 

  • The Genocide of Aboriginals and the “Stolen Generation”: (The “Stolen Generation” refers to a period of indigenous and mixed-race children being forcibly taken from their families by the Australian government agencies and church missions, under acts of their respective Parliaments between 1905-1970, although some of the legislation that permitted this tactic in Australia goes as far back as the late 1860’s). There were clear racist attitudes and actions taken by some of the Australian settlers of European descent. The decisions to implement this were made by the local Australian government/Parliament, and more often than not the Queen was kept in the dark on what was going on. For example, when she visited Australia, the local governments would go so far as to build screens and walls or select carefully planned routes, in order to hide the evidence of poverty and the conditions to which the Aborigines were subjected. If there are people to hold responsible for these atrocities, it would be towards the early settlers, the Australian Parliament, and local state governments, not Queen Elizabeth II.

 

  • The Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya formally began in 1952, though it had been brewing for over 150 years prior with a number of resistances, uprisings, and fighting between various Kenyan tribes and British colonizers in response to the abominable acts, land-grabs, and enslavement of Kenyan natives by the colonizers. It is understandable that there is deep ancestral pain and anger here. Most of the decisions on the part of the British in how to respond to the uprising came from the British army and settlers who were actually in Kenya, then later the British Parliament. What was Queen Elizabeth’s role in this? She was not queen when it started. Then when she became queen, she was young, naïve, mourning the death of her father, adjusting to her new role, and probably kept in the dark on a lot of it, or fed the propaganda story about the Mau Mau rebels being “an irrational force of evil who had reverted to savagery”. Without a doubt, there was savagery happening on both sides, with war crimes and massacres committed by both the Mau Mau rebels (against colonizers and their own people who sided with them) and by the British army. Acknowledgement, apologies, and reparations of the British side of this only came in 2012, after a legal case and the exposure of evidence, that the UK government finally admitted that prisoners had suffered "torture and ill-treatment at the hands of the colonial administration." But it was Parliament who issued this, because it was the previous Parliament that allowed for such to happen.

The Bengali Famine of 1943, which killed up to 3 million people, was the result of a number of compounding issues. There was a drought in the early 1940’s, but the peak of it was 1941. After researching the issue, a March 2019 article in The Guardian reported that, “Food supplies had been reduced to Bengal in the years preceding 1943 due to natural disasters, outbreaks of infections in crops, and the fall of Burma – now Myanmar – which was a major source of rice imports.” This alone was not enough to cause the famine. On top of this came the impact of WWII, which resulted in “wartime inflation, speculative buying and panic hoarding, which together pushed the price of food out of the reach of poor Bengalis,” according to economist Amartya Sen. This was then exacerbated by the decisions of PM Winston Churchill’s cabinet during WWII to export rice from India to other parts of the Commonwealth, despite warnings from officials in India. These were very dark days during WWII, hard decisions had to be made around complex and compounding issues, and many lives were lost all over the world. Some estimates say anywhere between 70-85 million people lost their lives from WWII (about 3% of the global population at that time), with 50-56 million (including civilians and military) dying as direct casualties of war, and an additional 19–28 million estimated deaths that resulted from war-related diseases and famines, including those in Bengali. People around the world were impacted in some way or another by the war, whether directly or indirectly. If there had not been a war, these deaths and the Bengali famine would not have happened, and food supply would have likely been offset by imports from Burma and elsewhere.

 

Without diminishing the devastation of any of these events, what I’d like to point out is that they were all complex situations with many people, decision-makers, and factors involved. From what I can see based on researching the historical details that I have access to, they were not the direct doing of Queen Elizabeth II or even under her orders. Much of this started or occurred before she was Queen, and it was the politicians in Parliament, the colonial administrators, and the military leaders who came up with the strategies, made the decisions, and implemented them. 

 

Some critics of the Queen point to how her efforts haven’t reached people in poverty in the USA or elsewhere in the world that are not part of the Commonwealth. Personally, I fail to see the relevance here, as the USA declared Independence from the British monarchy and Parliament in 1776 and essentially told them to get out. Meaning it is not the Royal family’s business to meddle or interfere with what happens in the USA. That is the responsibility of the people of the USA and the leaders of the USA to address, as that is what they took on as an independent nation. The same would apply to other situations of poverty around the world in nations that have no connection with the Commonwealth. As for poverty within the countries of the Commonwealth today, this also became the responsibility of the national and local governments who pushed for their “equal status, sovereign rights and self-governance as nations” from 1931 onwards. The governments are the ones who decide on and implement strategies and systems for addressing such issues (or not). So again, to try and place all this blame and responsibility on one person, such as Queen Elizabeth II, is unrealistic and an attempt to displace/project the responsibility that we all have for addressing the issues of our communities in the world today.

 

What Will It Take To Heal From The Past?

 

Let’s come back to Healing from the Past. There will be some who say that there can be no healing without apologies, reparations, and acknowledgement of past wrongs. I beg to differ. If we were to apply that same sentiment to our own personal lives and micro-situations, we’d all be in a world of hurt. But fortunately, healing is a personal choice. To see ourselves as a victim, or to see ourselves as someone who can rise above our personal pain and transmute it into strength, is a personal choice that we make day-by-day. It is not dependent upon anyone outside of us doing anything in particular. To say “I can’t heal or let this go until _______(fill in a name) apologizes to me”, well that is your personal choice to hold on and remain attached to the hurt, rather than choosing to heal. Some people do make that choice because they unconsciously are using their pain and hurt as a source of power to fuel their anger. You can do that, but be careful of which “wolf” inside you choose to feed, as it will be the one that grows stronger and more dominant in your life. 

 

Returning to the colonialism situation, given the background of how the monarchs have been stripped of much of their power since the 1600’s, and given the fact that the decisions were made and implemented by previous local governments, national parliaments, and corporate industrialists that were the driving force behind colonization, it is simply not the place or responsibility of today’s monarch to apologize for such acts of the past. To accept responsibility is to accept liability, which in itself would undermine all the governments of the Commonwealth. If there is a responsibility to acknowledge and accept liability, it is on the part of the governments and of ALL parties who were responsible for having a direct part to play in committing the atrocities during the times of colonialism. Is that ever going to happen? Can that even happen in today’s world? 


Given the remoteness of such an apology and reparation ever happening, the essential issue we must all ask ourselves as individuals is whether we can heal despite this lack of apology. And what would need to happen for us to allow that healing to occur? And what good does it serve to hang on to the anger and victimization of the past? Will we ever be able to move forward and create a better future, if we are still hanging on to the past and even proliferating it to future generations, so they also hang on to it? 


Wisdom teachings have a lot to say about healing. The first teaching is that all healing is self-healing and it starts with forgiveness. Forgiveness means we come to an acceptance of the past, while sad and brutal, it was what it was. We can’t change the past. We can learn from it. We can remember it. We can choose to not repeat it. And we can forgive it so that we can move on. Forgiveness, however, does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean condoning. Forgiveness is a choice to let go of the attachment, the anger, and the pain that causes us to suffer from what happened. To forgive is to free ourselves from the emotional burden we carry around with us. So long as we stay stuck on the pain of the past, we inevitably project that into our present and future realities. It clouds our perception to being able to truly grasp our current reality and the opportunities that are before us in the present moment. It causes us to see everything happening in our lives today through the filter of our pain, anger, and attachments. 

 

A wonderful example of forgiving and transmuting one’s pain and anger into strength and light is Nelson Mandela. After being locked up in prison for 27 years for standing against apartheid in South Africa, accused of treason, confined to a small cell, forced to do hard labour, and much worse, and yet when he left prison he knew he needed to let go of the past for his own sake. Mandela said, “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” He chose to forgive and let go of the attachments to negative emotions and pain. 

 

On a collective scale, one example of a nation that has been invaded, colonized, re-invaded, conquered, and abused over millennia, and yet still has shown the ability to rise above the issues of the past and create something beautiful out of it, time and again, is the UK itself. The British Isles have a long history of invasions by Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Danes/Vikings, French, and Spanish, along with many internal struggles and wars over who would rule the country and what religion should dominate. In more recent history, they were also bombed during WWII by the Nazi’s, and had to rebuild much of their way of life. This is the history of one relatively small set of islands, and yet it is one example of a pattern that pervades our global human history. That history has been one of tribal warfare, conquest, invasion, etc. and all the atrocities that come with it.  

 

Yet, no one hears of the people of the UK today demanding justice and recompense from the Germans, Danes, or French (for example) for the atrocities committed against their ancestors. Perhaps that is because they have a different attitude about the ancestral past. One such micro-example is the Shire and City of York in Northern England. There is a saying in the Shire that, “when life throws you shit, take that shit and make compost out of it to grow something beautiful.” Aside from the gritty Shire humour, there is wisdom in this advice that we can all gain insight from. Meaning let’s learn our lessons from the mistakes of the past, and instead of staying stuck on it or repeating it, let’s focus on creating something positive out of it.  We can always take a bad situation and redirect it to become something that produces good fruit.

 

Tending Our Garden

 

Speaking of growing something beautiful, anyone who has ever gardened would know that when weeds start to appear, we need to pull them. Elsewise the weeds will soon take over and diminish the rest of the garden’s ability to thrive. We must tend our garden to keep it beautiful, and there are many aspects to tending one’s garden. I see my profile pages on social media as an extension of my garden. Some people did not like my comment that they are free to stop following my page if my position on certain issues disappoints them, and that if they choose to spout hatred and negativity on my pages, I also have the freedom to remove them from my page. I see this as an aspect of tending my garden by establishing proper boundaries and protocols when necessary, so that negativity doesn’t overtake the rest of the garden or spread toxicity to others. 

 

Similarly, if someone comes to my house and starts attacking me or my loved ones, I will invite them to leave. If they refuse to go and yet will not show respect towards me and my guests in my own home, then I might have to call in the authorities to escort them out. I’m certainly open to hearing differing viewpoints, I have been all my life, and am willing to change my view when shown enough evidence. However, I also have a boundary that if you want to offer alternative viewpoints, you do so respectfully and present evidence to back up your claims. 

 

There is far too much mere opinion and accusation without evidence in our world today, and people seem all too ready to jump on the bandwagon of negativity. My removal of someone who is spouting too much negativity and toxicity on my page is not hindering their freedom of speech in any way, as they can go and rant on their own page. 

 

Here are the boundaries when it comes to interacting on my pages: 

 

  • You are free to comment on my social media pages and share your own perspectives in a respectful way, even if they oppose my own. Please feel free to cite your credible evidence that support your claims as well. Remember I’m a scientist, so I do my own research, and I also discern whether sources cited are grounded and credible, versus mere conspiracy theory, or even merely opinion-based. 
  • Please be aware that I will also play no part in supporting or hosting on my pages any acidic commentary or unfounded opinions that are purposefully disrespectful, trying to cause hurt or spreading vicious or untrue propaganda and agendas. Please note that in such circumstances, I will consider removing, reporting, or possibly blocking such comments and users.
  • Also realize that I know full well that it is an impossible task to try and please everyone, as we are all unique individuals. So, I will stand for what I believe in, whether you like it or not, whether you are disappointed in me or not. You are free to disagree, just do so respectfully, and I will accept that. I also ask the same of you, that you accept that we are free to have different views on things. At the end of the day, the person I have to live with the most is myself. What matters to me more than your opinion of me, or whether you like me, is whether I like myself and that I’m in integrity with what I believe to be of the Light. If we all lived in greater integrity within our lives, our core beliefs, and our interactions with others, then this world would be a much better place. 
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Dr Theresa Bullard

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