As a kid in the Scouting program, I went to Philmont in rural New Mexico. This is a rite of passage for many young people. Over 30,000 adventurers make the trek annually, lugging heavy backpacks and dried food through the rugged terrain.
It’s been thirty years but I do remember the trip. I remember hiking in wet socks, the root beer at the Abreu cantina, the bonus day at Rich Cabins. And I can recall the eccentric personalities of our crew, ever magnified by the discomforts of a week in the backcountry.
But I also distinctly remember something which happens on most every trip where you climb and climb and climb. Eventually, after slogging through endless monotony, you reach a summit. A vantage point. And from there, you can see vast distances, and often much of the path you took to reach your goal.
From the top of the mountain, we have a different perspective than we did when stumbling through the dense woods. And that’s what our country is sorely lacking at this time: a sense of perspective. We are obsessed with the drama of the current moment, when what we need is to take a longer view. We shouldn’t be panicking about issues, but asking questions: like how we got here, what choices were made in the past, and what lessons we can learn from history.
Because, not much is new. People have been talking about the wealthiest 1% from the days of Andrew Carnegie to the time of Elon Musk. Debates have raged about organized labor from the Pullman Strike of 1894 to the unions at modern-day Amazon warehouses. And every time there has been an outbreak of a virus: from smallpox in the American Revolution to the waves of cholera, scarlet fever, the Spanish Flu, and now COVID-19—every time there has been an outbreak we have had fierce arguments about quarantines, vaccinations, inoculation passports, and individual freedoms. We have been here before.
That doesn’t mean that the answers are obvious. But it does show the power of perspective. And unlike all those trekkers to Philmont Scout Ranch, you don’t need to climb Mt. Baldy to get perspective. All you need to do is have some curiosity. Ask questions. Listen to others. Take time to learn about the past.
What we need is perspective. Three decades after that hike in the woods I am still searching for it. But the answer is the same as it has always been: slow down, watch your step, and look to those who have taken this path before. Perspective is how we see where we are. Perspective is what we require to decide what to do next.