There are several fellow bloggers “out there” who must have really dog-eared copies of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, or a “pithy quotes” macro search function on their keyboards. I say this in admiration, because I had editorial responsibility for a periodic newsletter, and we included a “clever quote” in each edition. But it was a challenge to find a good quote, even once every two weeks. To post a fresh quote daily is, to me, almost super human!
I want to thank Don Charisma, a blogger whose candor I appreciate, and who posts quotes daily. Today’s posting is, however one with which I must take issue. The quote, credited to Charles R. Swindoll, a noted 20th Century evangelical minister, reads:
“The past is over…forget it. The future holds hope…reach for it.”
On the face of it, this sounds like good advice, say, following a failure or loss in life, for helping someone focus on the future and not be discouraged or emotionally anchored to these past events.
The Dangerous Phrase
The dangerous phrase (in my opinion), however, in that quote is “…forget it.”
To illustrate, here is a counter quote from George Santayana, 20th Century philosopher, essayist, and novelist:
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
[Note: A quick search (I don’t have the search “macro,” but I use the search function frequently) credits at least ten sources for similarly phrased quotes.]
History—ancient, modern, national, international, or personal—is a record of mankind’s and man’s triumphs and failures. History from the industrial revolution to the present records many instances of famous people who failed repeatedly until they finally achieved monumental success: Thomas Edison comes to mind. He and others that succeeded “big” did not “forget” their past failures (and he had some doozies!), they learned from these failures and applied what they learned. I would contend that their successes would not have been achieved had it not been for what they learned from their failures.
Another clever fellow comes to mind: Albert Einstein is credited with saying:
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
[Another Note: A quick check on Google finds several articles about that quote: some attribute it to Einstein, several refute that he ever said it. Somebody said it, and I like it, even if it is overused!]
I contend that we as individuals, societies, and nations must retain a record of our past—good, bad, and unvarnished—and periodically review what worked and what did not work, and use that intelligence to guide our future actions. Certainly not “forget it,” or rewrite it because it was unpleasant, embarrassing, or clearly unjust.
[Yet Another Note: This is being written by an individual who really hated history classes in high school and college. Perhaps it takes some level of maturity and personal experience to appreciate history.]
So are we ever going to really learn from history sufficiently to modify behavior to avoid “repeating history.”
Generations Routinely Ignore History
Sadly, I doubt it. It is in our nature as humans to make the same mistakes over and over—not necessarily individuals, but generation-to-generation. Consider teenagers and driving. We can teach safety and rules-of-the-road; show the horrific results of speeding, texting, alcohol, etc., but despite intensive well-meaning, critical training, many teenagers continue to ignore or defy knowledge and insist on “learning the hard way” for themselves (assuming they survive). Almost every teenager—boys at least—understands that the rules are for the “average” driver, and most feel they are better than “average,” therefore texting or speeding are no problem. It can’t happen to them. Right?
I contend this same attitude applies to societies. We can look at the failures of past societies. Popular governments, led by popular citizen-leaders, emerge from the overthrow of oppressive dictatorial, burdensome governments. Then these new governments grow; government is taken over by professional politicians who pay less attention to the principles (and possibly documents) that were used establish their society and they become more interested in holding onto power. The current government says “but we are different, and our people will support us forever.” After a while, an unrecognized or unacknowledged groundswell of discontent begins to grow until it eventually destabilizes the government. The cycle is completed by a bloody revolution, or an even bloodier take over by some even more oppressive outside force.
But that could never happen to us. Right?
The past; “…forget it.”
A recent “quote for the day” incites me to ask “Does History Repeat Itself?” What do you think?