There’s a saying….
It’s hard to know who really said it first – it’s been attributed to many different people all in slightly different forms.
We studied it in college. Well, it’s about history and I was pursuing a history minor, so that’s not a big surprise.
What was it?
“Those who fail to understand history are destined to repeat it.”
I could bore you with a history lesson about the various people who, throughout history, neglected to learn from the mistakes of the past. And it came back and bit them in a big way.
Those are just two – I could give you many more. But instead, I want to share two assumptions that this saying makes about human nature and two reasons why it’s important to learn from the past.
Thing #1 – this says that, in many ways, human nature hasn’t really changed that much over the centuries. There are things that have changed, the tools we use, the housing we live in, the surroundings have changed, but the nature of human beings hasn’t changed that much
⁃ We’re still more likely to do the evil and the bad thing than we are the good thing.
⁃ We’re still more likely to put ourselves ahead of others.
Thing #2 – that we are a pride filled and frankly rather obnoxious bunch. What? How does it say that? It’s pretty simple.
⁃ If we, as a people, did a really good job of learning from the previous generations, then this saying wouldn’t need to be. It’s sort of like saying, “Make sure you breathe.” Well, of course, there isn’t the need to say that because with the exception of seriously ill individuals, we do that automatically. If we, as a human race were consistently attempting to look back at the past and learn from it, we wouldn’t need to mention it.
⁃ But we don’t. How does the saying go, “When I was two, I thought my Dad knew everything. When I was 13, I thought my Dad knew nothing. Now that I’m 33, I know that my Dad is pretty smart.” (Excuse the paraphrase but you know what it means.). As a country, we are doing a pretty impressive job of acting like the past means nothing and of saying and acting like it’s different this time.
With those being said, let me share with you two brief reasons why we should learn from the past:
1. The Wheel.
2. The rear view mirror.
Do you know the person who first invented the wheel? No, me neither. But I’m really glad he did. It would be a lot harder to do life if someone hadn’t already invented the wheel. But they did and now we can get around a lot easier in many ways and many places..
Don’t reinvent the wheel – look back at history, learn what was done well and imitate it. Learn what screwed up and learn from that too.
The rear-view mirror – in order to know where you are going, it helps to know where you’ve been. Knowing the environment you are in, the roads, the type of traffic, these are some of the many things that help you understand where you are going. These are some of the things that you learn while looking in the rear view mirror.
I wish I could say that I felt that people who are “movers and shakers” in today’s world have learned from the past. I can’t.
I wish I could say that I was confident that they would learn from past mistakes. They don’t appear to be doing so.
Those who fail to understand history are destined to repeat it. As things move forward on here, we’re going to do a fair amount of looking back to attempt to learn from the past.
I hope you’ll join me.