In some of my recent thoughts and readings, I have been digging through a good amount of history. Some of it for educational purposes, some it if for fun. Frankly, I have always loved reading history. To me, its always been an adventure that is more real or profound than any novel or fictional writing. History is the story of those who came before us; those who shaped the world to make it what it is today! Surely this is worthy of our time.
The most primary reason that I value reading history is because its such a rich opportunity to learn from the lives of others. When we deal with conflicts in our daily lives, the great challenge in making the right decision, or cultivating the right reaction is that we cannot know what our choices will lead to. But when we read history, we have a chance to sit in the background and watch the events unfold without knowing any pressure or struggle ourselves. We can sit in the shadow and watch how decisions are made, risks are taken, and victories are claimed. We can observe people and their behavior. We can learn from the past mistakes and their terrible consequences. What an excellent opportunity for life!
So why does it seem that it is so seldom valued?
A few decades ago, C. S. Lewis touched at the core of the issue when he accused us being guilty of what he called ‘chronological snobbery”, or every generation inherently thinking that it is better than the others. We consider ourselves to be immune to the mistakes and foolish conclusions that others before us came to. We are at the forefront of human civilization and development. We look back in horror at the blunders of our fathers, all the while failing to ask the larger and more crucial question –
What makes us think that we are any better?
When we take the time to read of about the things and people of the past, we can see a clear and simple trend: there is nothing new under the sun. Every generation seems to recycle and repeat the mistakes of the past in new ways. We are all human, we are all no better than the worst and no worse than the best. We all have a lot to learn.
Can you imagine that only less than 200 years ago human being were owned as property in our country? That just 70 years ago millions of Jews were incinerated, slaughtered and tortured because they were believed to be and “inferior race”? That only 45 years ago, people were hated, mistreated and killed publicly simply because of the color of their skin? 40 years is nothing!!
What kind of people could do such a terrible things? How could they simply stand by and do nothing?
They were people just like you and I.
Rather than accusing them and thinking ourselves to be far above their mistakes we should learn the humble, time tested truth: we are never beyond the worst of failures. Only when we understand that we are all merely human, do we open the door to the treasure of learning from the stories of those who came before.