Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Some Thoughts About History

Why History? What is it about the past that inspires us to turn our heads from the present and gaze into human memory? Perhaps the toils and humdrum of everyday life get to be too much. Perhaps the never ending barrage of input thrust upon our fragile senses conflicts fundamentally with our natural selves. We all seem to be screaming "Enough! No more flashing lights, beepers, and neon! No more commuter lanes, rush hour, and ‘construction for the next 5 miles’! No, we don’t want to be asked at the airport if our luggage has been handled by anyone else, we don’t want to be put on hold, and for God's sake, please stop making such fast-paced, fast-cutting, ‘hip’ commercials!" Yet it keeps coming, endless and escalating, and there seems to be nothing we can do about it.

So where does history fit in? History can give us a glimpse into what was and what was meant to be. It can fill us with perspective and, if we are lucky, meaning. It teaches us that we don’t have to ignore the past, but rather embrace it, and let it guide our present with the simple truth that part of who we are, is who we were.

There are some who believe that we should live entirely in the present, that to study history is to study a colossal waste of time. They say the only thought of any value is a thought in the present, the only efficient action is one taken toward the future. How hopelessly bored these people must be. History is not just a bunch of distant facts and obscure references (although as an eight-year-old once put it, it is filled with a lot of "dead guys"), it is a journey which we are all part of. It is the record of an entire race of beings, with all our love, compassion, fears, laughter, and outcries. History shows our tremendous capacity for good as well as evil, our accomplishments, our shortcomings, our reason, and our insanity. It is a map to the very nature of man, where we have separated from other animals, and where we are sometimes too similar.

Perhaps above all, history is a gift. It is precious knowledge that results from time and existence. If we use it, we can find perspective on who we are as a people, where we are going, and why. History gives us the ability to see ourselves as clearly as we choose to, whether it be finding out who invented shoelaces, or figuring out where our instincts end and our souls begin.

History, in the end, is not separate from the present or the future. It is as real as our lives are real. By allowing the past into our lives, we allow all the knowledge, work, and experience of our ancestors into our lives. That is not something we should ignore, but something we should cherish, learn from, and honor. If we allow it, it can show us the very best of our humanity, the very best of ourselves, and ennoble us with faith in our fellow man, hope for our future, and illumination in our daily lives.


BlondebutBright said...

Very inspiring post! I always think about the power of hindsight. And the fact that we still fail to use it.

Jarod said...

BbB - so true, it's amazing how we don't learn. I think history repeats itself not because it is on some mysterious cycle, but because human nature never changes.

BlondebutBright said...

Mmmm…good point. So maybe then we should stop taking history into account and just give into our unchanging nature? How’s that for a pessimistic view? :)

Jarod said...

Heheh. I think that is what has basically happened.

Andy Coon said...

Human nature is very scary, but it is intellect that helps our species grow and adapt for the future. It's only when we get dumbasses is high powered positions that we are in trouble.

I don't know where I'm going with this, because we reelected him.. oh boy I guess history does repeat itself and hopefully sometimes we can stop it.

Great post Jarod, you made me think while I'm at work... How dare you.

Lydia said...

Great post.

Sometimes when life seems monotenous, I think about how life was monotenous 500 or 1000 years ago, but we still think they were important. So, I guess it can be uplifting. And like you said.

Jarod said...

Andy - Sorry about the work/think thing. I'll send you a nice fruit basket.
Lydia - Very true about life being much more monotonous back in the day. A great example is just watch "1840's house" or similar program, and see how the participants have almost instant meltdowns when exposed to that lifestyle!

devon said...

Funny how we don't know much about our history at all.

Yes, we know some historical events and facts (which are likely biased and distorted). But like the earlier post said, we have no clue about their daily monotony. We can't even imagine that. Or how debilitating something as simple as poor eyesight or a bad tooth could be. We don't have to go back very many years to find that world.