On “moving on” and “getting over it”

Something that I hear a lot with regards to statues and the historical figures that they represent, and really any issue on which people have differing opinions, is “move on,” “get over it,” or “let it go.” People say this when they think someone is not justified in feeling the way they do. Consider, for example, the beheading of Boston’s statue of Christopher Columbus and the resulting decision to move the statue to a less prominent location. When people have voiced anger, grief, and/or dismay about these events, we have been told to let the statue go, to move on, and instead to focus on choosing a replacement statue to honor Boston’s Italian-American community.

This way of responding to someone’s concerns is arrogant, patronizing, and lacking in empathy.

First of all, when someone is upset, that person cannot simply decide not to be upset anymore and then immediately cease being upset. That is not how emotions work. When people feel strongly about an issue, they are going to have strong emotions about that issue. People who love a statue and the historical figure it represents are going to be filled with grief and rage when the statue is destroyed. The grieving process takes time; a person cannot simply stop being angry and sad because another person has instructed them to do so. By telling another person to “get over” or “let go of” something they are upset about, one is dictating what the timeline of another person’s grieving process should be. This demand is illogical and unreasonable.

In addition to being impossible, the idea of “moving on,” “getting over it,” or “letting go” is not even desirable. Those who tell other people to do these things are presuming the truth of their own opinion and the illegitimacy of the other person’s opinion. The reason why numerous Italian-Americans such as myself are upset about the Columbus statue being destroyed and removed is because we like the statue and think that its destruction and removal are bad things. Specifically, we are outraged by the fact that an act of vandalism was allowed to decide the fate of the statue, and we believe it is unjust to reward the vandal(s) in this way. The “move on” crowd clearly doesn’t think the removal of the statue is that bad, or at least doesn’t feel as strongly about it as we do. But why is their opinion any more legitimate than ours? Why is it necessarily more correct to be indifferent about the statue’s fate than to be outraged and upset about it? If the act of vandalism and the city’s response were actually wrong (which I believe they were), then being outraged and upset is the morally correct response, and it is those who feel indifferent who should reconsider their reaction.

I love Christopher Columbus. I think he was an admirable and fascinating person, and he captures my imagination more than almost any other historical figure. I do not have these same feelings towards Sacco and Vanzetti, Mayor Thomas Menino, or a generic Italian immigrant or family of immigrants, all of which have been suggested as possible replacement statues. Why should I move on from a statue and historical figure that I love, to a statue about which I feel complete indifference?

Perhaps at some point, my grief and rage at the loss of the Columbus statue will become bearable. Perhaps one day my love of Columbus will be a source of joy, and I will take solace in reading about his life and honoring him through artwork of my own, instead of being tormented by agonizing psychological pain every day because of what was done to him. But I will never stop loving Columbus. I will never feel excited or happy about the construction of a politically correct, non-controversial, meaningless statue for which I feel no affinity.

In short, when you tell another person to “move on,” “get over it,” or “let go,” you are essentially telling them to stop having their opinion and instead to adopt your opinion. You are telling them to stop caring about the things that they care about, and instead to start caring about the things that you care about. You are telling them to stop loving the thing that they love and instead to love the thing that you love. It’s hard to imagine a greater lack of empathy than that.