Today in a meeting, seemingly out of nowhere, my boss asked if taking down a Robert E. Lee statue was the same as taking down a Columbus statue.

For some stupid reason I started speaking first but was confounded a bit by my typically literal approach to the question. Of course they're not the same, but they're similar.

I guess the real question is in what ways they're similar or different.

The question was asked with the intonation that they're "not the same," (of course they're not) which I'll take to really mean "they're not similar."

While the Columbus episode was (partially) foundational in determining who and what we are today and the same cannot be said for Robert E. Lee. as a person, and despite the fact that the basic intention of each person was different and the actions they represent are different and the scope of their impact is different, to me the core similarity, in relation to the statue question, is that they (overall, in the final summation) do not represent qualities, actions or characteristics we wish to champion.

Do they have qualities? Of course.

Do these qualities sort of outweigh their faults? No.

If you take someone like Jefferson, a slave owner, do his qualities outweigh his faults in the view of (our) history? Plenty of people would say no, but I think most Americans still say yes.

When it comes to Columbus I think many of the things that were even once seen as qualities are no longer valued the same way. So the society making these determinations changes.

Anyway, we don't need statues for either, though I think the decision around Lee can be arrived at more quickly. While the offenses and impact of Columbus may be greater, Lee's position and context is clearer.