Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Is There ANY Future in the Past? Oh, Yes...And More Than You Might Think.

When I was in school, I always considered history my worst subject.  I just couldn't wrap my head around Jamestown, the Declaration of Independence, or the Civil War the way I could the nine planets, multiplication, or English grammar.  Sure, I was good enough at it to get honor roll almost every marking period of elementary school from third grade onward, and here and there in middle and high school, but history just wasn't my thing.  All of the high school students in my state have to take standardized tests on world geography, world history, and US history, along with English and various maths and sciences.  I ended up surprising even myself by doing better on the social studies ones than the ones on any other subject, save for the two English ones, on one of which I got the highest possible score.  To this day, I'm not sure how I did that, or even how I managed a grade higher than a "C" in fourth grade history class.  My mom and brother-in-law are both big fans of history--in fact, my brother-in-law studied it in college--which kind of puts me at odds with them.  Once, he and I were debating whether or not I should study history, and I quoted an old Vince Gill song in my defense: "There ain't no future in the past." He countered with an age-old George Santayana maxim: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." There was no way I could argue with that logic.

Even though social studies wasn't my best thing in school--well, okay, only in some ways!--my own past is one thing that I seem to know better than anybody else.  I often surprise people when I tell them of things that I saw them do and/or heard them say a while back; the responses I've gotten have ranged from the usual, "I don't remember that!", to even calling me "the one who remembers everything I ever did." (I'm not the only one who has ever had someone tell him that; see John 4:28-29 for proof.) Sometimes, people even don't believe me, saying that not only did what I spoke of not occur, it couldn't have, for whatever reason(s).  They don't seem to realize that, if I didn't know it to be true, I wouldn't say it.

You've probably noticed from my previous posts that I tend to look backwards to find the solutions to my problems.  Almost every time something happens, I'll say it's similar to something that happened in the past; it's to be expected from someone who can recall instances from years ago as clearly as if they happened last week.  My sister and I were meeting with someone back in 2003, and I brought up an instance that took place in 1999, to which my sister replied, "[Siobhan], I don't even remember that!" I quickly countered with, "I don't know how you can't; it wasn't even half a decade ago!" She and the individual whom we were meeting with laughed, but, to me, it wasn't a joke; the feelings I had about said instance when it happened didn't just remain with me for four years, but are still there today.  More recently, a Facebook friend had this to say:
I understand you have a great memory, and often look to the past for understanding and such, but I am blessed to not have a great memory and look only to the future.  I do not spend time on the past.  There is no point in looking on it, for there is nothing you can do about it.  So, though your posts are good, I cannot relate for that reason.  Sometimes, I feel sorry for you; that you cannot let go of the past and move on.
It's true that looking back on "the good old days" is unwise--Ecclesiastes 7:10 even says so!--but, it seems like I do it quite often, probably way too much.  If I'm going to spend time looking back--and we all know I will--then, the least I could do is apply that knowledge.  I can look back at what I and others did right, and emulate those actions; when I remember that someone--whether me, a family member, a friend, or even a famous person--messed up, I can ask myself, "Why did _____ mess up? What did _____ do wrong?" That can serve as what I call a Tim Taylor example: it shows me what not to do.  Not only have I had teachers show my entire class--or just tell us--the mistakes that previous students have made, but the Bible is full of mistakes of people just like us:
  • Two people's desire for what they couldn't have brought sin into the world. (Genesis 3)
  • The wisest earthly king who ever lived was led astray by a thousand women, and his mistakes led the nation he ruled astray. (1 Kings 3:3)
  • A man promises his friend he will never betray him, only to do just that and not realize it until it's too late. (Matthew 26:69-75)
With the mistakes of anybody, we can't let them just be a simple story, and just say, "It happened." We must learn from those mistakes, as mentioned in the George Santayana quotation above: If we don't learn from history, we're doomed to repeat it.  It doesn't matter if it's Biblical history, family history, American history, world history, or our own personal history; if we don't learn from it, it's useless.  James 1:22-24 says, "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like." (NIV) The same is true of history of any kind; knowing what happened at a certain time and place doesn't do you any good if you don't understand the meaning.

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