Unexpected Lesson

1950s

Unexpected Lesson

Era: 

  • 1933 - 1968

The ROM tour had come to an end. My grade seven classmates and I descended to the lower level to collect our winter coats and galoshes. At the bottom of the stairs, I saw a skull, sitting rather haphazardly on a small stand in the hallway. On one side of the skull was a hole, neatly cut about one-inch square. I asked the obvious question and was told this was the skull of an ancient Incan on whom brain surgery had been performed.

These sixty years later, I remember my shock and confusion. Were Europeans performing brain surgery 500 years ago? “No,” said the curator. But wasn't it the Europeans who overran and destroyed the Incan empire?

The lesson I took from this brief exchange persisted and ultimately shaped how I interpreted television news and boardroom confrontations: The winner is not always the smartest person in the room. And our encounters with culture, history and art may shape us in ways no one can imagine.

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