“Time has shown none understand
The course of history’s well-laid plans.”
Raise your hand if you hated history class in school. If I polled any of my peers, most of their hands would certainly shoot up. It wasn’t my favorite subject by any means. And why is that?
While everyone seems to acknowledged the validity of the “those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it” sentiment, few people will follow that up with an active study. Considering that save for a few glowing exceptions history classes in our school systems have been reduced to the memorization of names and dates, I guess that’s understandable. Most of us learned the facts and figures for the test, then quickly forgot them to make room for subjects that actually mattered to us. I mean, really, what impact is remembering the 11th president of the United States really going to have on my life?
Very little, honestly.
History is more than just names and dates.
Or at least it should be. While it’s great to know that the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776 (though most historians conclude it wasn’t technically signed until August 2nd of the same year), it’s far more important to understand why. What events led up to it? What previous works inspired this one? How did signing that document affect the lives of all those who signed it?
A true study of our past is not simply committing some event to memory to be able to regurgitate the details on command later; it involves examining the choices and ideas of those who have gone before us and learning from what they have learned. In his book RESOLVED: 13 Resolutions for LIFE, best-selling author and leadership guru Orrin Woodward quotes from actor Will Smith:
“The ideas that there are millions and billions of people who have lived before us, and they had problems and they solved them and they wrote it in a book somewhere – there is no new problem that we can have that we have to figure out by ourselves.”
History has left some hints for today.
I wrote an article a few months ago comparing the conditions surrounding the fall of the Roman empire to the conditions surrounding the modern-day United States. Edward Gibbon, the historian whose research I primarily used on the matter, didn’t come to his conclusions by knowing the date the final emperor came to power. We ignore history, we ignore warning signs (or flashing neon lights).
The Founding Fathers of the United States were all history buffs. They were voracious readers and passionate learners; the combined knowledge and perspective of their own life experiences, as well as the experiences of the men and women they studied, is responsible for the longest running free society on Earth. Over the years, our society’s love of entertainment has overshadowed any love we may have had for learning. And it’s showing in our leadership.
It’s not just a nice idea to study the past; it’s absolutely necessary if we don’t want to share the same fate as the mighty civilizations before us. And we’re closer to that fate than some would think.