People, places, dates, events — those are the nuts and bolts of history. They’re all important, and learning about these aspects of the past are important if we are to learn any history.
But, nope, people, places, dates, and events aren’t the most important lesson history has for us.
Patterns of human behavior, insights into the past which might carry into the present and the future — more important nuts and bolts of history. These aspects of history, certainly, are important.
But, again, behavior patterns, historical insights are close — yet not really the most important lessons we can learn from history.
Are you ready now for the great revelation? This famous quotation hints at what may be history’s most important lesson for us : “Children today are tyrants. They contradict their parents, gobble their food, and tyrannize their teachers. What will become of them? This world is truly coming to an end.”
Do you know who said that? Read on …
Socrates penned those words more than 2,100 years ago. But I’ll bet you’ve heard — perhaps even said! — the same thing many times in recent years.
This is at the heart of the most important lesson history wants to teach us, and that lesson can be summed up in two words: Historical perspective.
The most valuable tool history gives us is a frame of reference, a “perspective,” for viewing our world. Historical perspective allows us the stability of knowing, 1) nothing is really as uncertain, as new, as threatening as we may believe it to be, and 2) we really aren’t the first people to experience whatever the crisis of the day may be — others have gone before us and have overcome the same or similar crises just fine.
It’s a measure of maturity when an individual, a family, community, and/or nation are able to see himself/herself/themselves in historical perspective. (If you’ve ever raised children, or worked in any capacity with children — especially teenagers — it’s good to know Socrates shared your experiences. He survived it; you can, too.)
What happens when we lose our sense of historical perspective? When we cut ourselves off from the past, either intentionally or simply through an ignorance of the past, we fall prey to every twist and turn, every immediate crisis that life brings along — with no “staying power” or stability to resolve those crises.
Also, if we ignore the past or are simply ignorant of what has happened before, we may fall prey to a sense of false security, a personal or cultural pride, which blinds us to possibilities all around us, stunting our moral and intellectual growth and limiting our options in every area of life.
Don’t hamper yourself in the present and limit your future by ignoring the past. Read history. Explore your personal, family, and community past. Take every opportunity that comes your way to expand your life by diving into the ocean of life that has come before you. Develop that historical perspective.