In the coming weeks, think of George Washington, the country's first president, as much as you think of Jefferson Davis, the only president of the short-lived Confederate States of America.
Consider the complex life of Thomas Jefferson, Virginia's favorite son and the country's third president, as much as Gen. Robert E. Lee, the Virginia resident who turned down President Abraham Lincoln's invitation to lead Union forces to instead command the Confederate army during the Civil War.
And as you examine the motives of the wealthy landowners who started a war that killed 620,000 Americans, don't overlook the precarious predicament poor white farmers faced in 1861 when shots rang out at Fort Sumter in Charleston 150 years ago this Tuesday.
The 150th anniversary observances of the beginning of what is still (and hopefully will forever remain) the country's bloodiest war started in December, and not too well, with a secession ball and the requisite protests in Charleston to mark the event that made South Carolina the first state to secede.
Those observances will kick into full force this week and continue sporadically during the next four years. In some ways, passions are as raw as if the war ended last week, not two centuries ago.
It doesn't have to be that way, not if we all embrace some realities many of us would rather ignore.
Critics of Confederate sympathizers are right to complain that those sympathizers too often paint a rosy, overly romanticized version of history by claiming the South didn't go to war to preserve slavery - even though the leaders of the Confederacy told us in speeches, official government documents and letters that was the reason they left the union.
But those sympathizers are right to complain that too much ire is generated by the sight of the Confederate flag when historical untouchables such as Washington and Jefferson assured that slavery would exist much longer under the American flag than the Confederate one. Washington, Jefferson and a gaggle of the Founding Fathers were also slave owners, and Lincoln's thinking on slavery and race were hardly as pure as his myth pretends.
Critics of Confederate sympathizers are right to say those sympathizers are too quick to paint over the horrors suffered by Southern blacks while trying to immortalize their ancestors who fought for the Confederacy. Those sympathizers are right to remind their critics that many white Southerners who did not make the decision to go to war - or own any slaves - also suffered unimaginable indignities and horrors at the hands of Union forces during and after the war.
The complexities don't end there. The South has recovered from the war fought mostly on its soil, but continues to feel the economic stings and bears the brunt of charges about the country's racist history - even though segregation is as big a problem (maybe bigger) in the North as in the South. The 2010 Census figures bear that out. Not one of the top 10 most segregated U.S. cities is in the South.
And what has been overlooked for too long is that there are thousands of Southern white families mired in poverty begun during slavery. It's one of the ironies of that period, that black slaves and poor whites were more damaged by slavery than others and could have provided a formidable opponent against the wealthy slave owners who benefited the most. But race got in the way, just as it often does today.
The 150th anniversary of the Civil War shouldn't be a celebration. Why should we celebrate a four-year period that ended in the deaths of 620,000 Americans and almost ripped this country apart?
It also shouldn't serve as another reason to despise each other for events over which we had no control.
We inherited the aftermath of the Civil War. That wasn't our choice.
But we get to choose if we take forward the type of animosity that led to it.