One of my favorite tricks in the historical method is called “placement:” the process of reassembling someone else’s worldview. Who and what shaped them? How do they think the world works? Why?

The more I look around these days, the more I think about placement — in the obvious places, of course (how could he/they possibly think that way?), but also in the less obvious ones.

My own assumptions and expectations, for example, were deeply shaped by mid-20th century writing. I was into the Hardy Boys books by fourth grade and Tom Clancy by fifth; plenty of World War II books filled in around yarns of Soviet submarines.

Other people’s expectations — my parents’, my grandparents’, my peers’ — were shaped by their environments and narratives, too. And, talking with friends recently who are parenting a year-old daughter in the midst of Covid, I wonder how their little girl’s expectations are being shaped by everything happening around her.

Most of our expectations are being challenged now. That’s been true for a long time for some people, and it’s more recent for others, but reality — if we can look at it clearly — obviously doesn’t match the predominant narratives of the past century or so. (Looking at a photograph of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt the other day, I realized they lived in a country that’s almost completely foreign to the one we have now.)

Each of us is placed differently, but we’re all placed somewhere, somehow. No matter what we were taught or conditioned to believe, though, the question is, how might we create new narratives and expectations that are better guides to the world, the country, the communities, the families we actually live in now?