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Change Our Story

Composer, author and philanthropist Peter Buffett on finding your own path to life fulfillment.

Original Sin

Peter Buffett, son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, is an Emmy Award-winning composer, NY Times best-selling author and noted philanthropist. Currently, he is releasing socially-conscious music and touring his "Concert & Conversation" series in support of his book Life Is What You Make It.
original sin 

Recently, I was curious about the concept of original sin and, not being a scholar of religion or history, I started where I often do: Wikipedia.

Within the first sentence, I realized why I had been thinking about this topic at this time. Original sin is also known as ancestral sin—the idea that sin lives and is carried through the generations just by being related to the original act.

And here it was Columbus Day, and Christopher Columbus, under the auspices of the Catholic Monarchs of Spain and carrying out a very commercial enterprise, is being remembered for his “discovery” of America.

The place he landed was Hispaniola in present day Haiti. Haiti today is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere by every known indicator. The deepest part of the wound is the point of entry.

When Columbus landed here’s a sampling of what he saw and his interpretation of it:

"As I saw that they were very friendly to us… It appears to me, that the people are ingenious, and would be good servants… They very quickly learn such words as are spoken to them. With fifty men I could subjugate them all and make them do everything that is required of them. They have no arms, and are without warlike instincts; they all go naked, and are so timid that a thousand would not stand before three of our men. So that they are good to be ordered about, to work and sow, and do all that may be necessary, and to build towns, and they should be taught to go about clothed and to adopt our customs."  

I am flooded with both sadness and rage when I read these passages.

That original sin spread throughout the hemisphere leaving entire cultures in ruins. Freedom dealt a crushing blow to people who actually understood the meaning of the word.

Because of my work on the television series 500 Nations, I know all too well what happened next—over and over and over again. Often using religion as a disguise and commercial exploitation as the fuel, millions of people were used up and killed. This may be a story as old as time, but this version is America’s story. 

A country built on enterprise and feeling pious enough to call itself exceptional, America was built on the backs of others. Either through forced labor or genocide, the country grew and never looked back. Yes, there are extraordinary things about this country. But just like every person on the planet, it has a complex story that must be recognized in its entirety to be recognized at all. Until then, it’s just running from its own shadow ... its own story.

In many ways, I’m not sure it matters who our next president is. This country is still desperately looking for redemption for its original sin. Until the creation of what we call the United States of America is seen in its full light, we can never clean up the mess that is being made in the name of “growth,” “progress,” and “prosperity.” There are too many people hurting to ignore it much longer.

Until we recognize that we are just part of a much larger whole—that we are only as free as the most bound among us—we will continually run as fast as we can towards oblivion. It’s time to create a new story by fully telling the old one. 

Imagine no religion
Imagine no possessions
Imagine no countries
Columbus landed in that place. 

What do you think? Share your story at changeourstory.com. Visit www.peterbuffett.com to learn more and Change Our Story to join the conversation on how we all can become active participants in shaping our future.  

Image courtesy of Amy Long.