Last week a co-worker of mine said something quite dramatic. He is Greek, so I suppose he was “allowed” to say this, but these are his words not mine! We were driving back from the first dinner event of the conference. We couldn’t help but talk about what we thought of the various international perspectives related to the economic crisis of Greece. Through my slight frustration in the theoretical feel of most of the conversations that happened that evening, I finally blurted, “What actually has to happen for Greece to make an improvement, a change?” We made a turn and into our sightlines came the Acropolis. My co-worker responded to my question. He said, “You know, we have such a reputation here in Greece, such a legacy attached to the Acropolis, I feel stuck sometimes, like we don’t progress because we feel like we already have what we need because of all we achieved all that time ago.” I had no response. It never even crossed my mind that cultural heritage and legacy could potentially be restrictive. I had heard the proverbial “learn from the past, don’t hold on to it”, but I had never really thought that having a legacy, and a positive humanity-altering one at that, could be one of the biggest blocks to progression.
Now, he went so far as to say we should tear the Acropolis down so that we (Greek people) don’t see it and always take it for granted. Of course, he immediately repealed the comment saying that was an absurd idea, but his point was very interesting. What would happen if a people could not see their legacy every day? What would happen if a culture felt like they still had to work to leave their mark on the world? Would that change the way that they structured themselves to grow? Legacy is a beautiful thing because it marks cultures and gives them identity. Why else would museums be built? Why else would libraries be spoken about as facilities that protect humanity? What else would people look forward to seeing when they traveled to new places in the world? What other points of entry for deeper understanding would there be if cultural legacy was not protected and presented? But this deeper understanding is delicate. It must be appreciative yet inquisitive, grateful and yet always slightly skeptical. In this balance, growth is always desired. In striving to discover the answers to questions, one never gets stuck. Legacy should never quell one’s curiosity; it should always challenge it.