Women who’ve recently marched for a cause are in debt to a Latin American who helped normalize female activism 200 years ago, Manuela Saenz. She was a lauded member of Peru’s independence movement against the tyranny of Spain. Among other acts of courage, Manuela took midnight rides to erase graffiti opposing the just cause of independence. Women exercising their freedom to divorce also ought to be grateful to Manuela. She left her British husband at a time when the women of his home country had no such legal right. Every woman donning a military uniform might also want to tip their beret or helmet to Manuela. She earned colonel rank in the Latin American military.
In short, Manuela Saenz was a formidable force for justice. Nevertheless, the backward thinkers in power during the last decades of her life recast her as treasonous and scandalous, stripped her of her hard-earned patriotic honors and pension, exiled her to the edge of civilization and fated her to die destitute.
Manuela’s detractors, however, did not nullify her contributions. The evidence overwhelmingly suggests that Martin Luther King was right when he said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” (as was the 19th-century abolitionist minister, Theodore Parker, whom King identified as his source). Moral progress often halts and even regresses within a generation, sometimes across several. But eventually the forces fighting injustice, prejudice and hatred win (for evidence, see chapter 13 of Do Good At Work or Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now). Because Manuela took the long view, she was able to accept her fall from grace with, well, grace. She remained calm and poised through every slight slung her way. She knew her value regardless of what her contemporaries thought.
What about you? Have you asked yourself if time will justify what you stand for? Have you considered if your grandchildren will be able to tell their grandchildren that you were on the right side of history? Consider taking some time to reflect on this poignant question: Do your actions align with the moral arc of history? The mere inquiry will enrich you.