An Illustrative Story on the Myth of Cultural Greatness

During a discussion on why and how certain things are taught in school, a coworker of mine stated (I’m paraphrasing) “Really, the greatness of a culture is based on the durability of its ideals.” I immediately bristled at this thought knowing that history is defined by those who are in power. But rather than starting an argument, I took some time to really think about his statement and compare it to my knowledge. From that I came up with this story:

Imagine a garden with many many types of flowers. Five years later you see that only a few types of flowers remain and have grown throughout most of the garden. You tell the gardener that those few flowers must be better than the rest because they are still around and are prospering.

The gardener tells you that 4 years ago, a flower expert came to visit and felt that some of the flowers were better than all the other flowers and proceeded to cut and mow down many of them. Half the garden was destroyed. Over a year, with many of the flowers gone and more room to grow, the growth of the “better” flowers expanded. 2 years later, another expert decided that many of the flowers left were actually weeds and proceeded to spray weed killer on them. Over the following year, another half of the garden died. Immune to weed killer and with more room to grow, the remaining flowers expanded to what you see today.

So are the remaining flowers really better than the others because they are still around? Could (should?) the same be said of the greatness of certain cultures because their ideals haven’t been torn up or poisoned, but have been given room to grow?