Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it

030815_HistoryThose who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it’ – Edmund Burke

The older one gets, the more they know this to be true. We see it all the time, all around us, from small, seemingly insignificant occurrences to huge events that affect all of humanity.

For instance and on a light note, my career has been largely tied up in the Internet industry, and therein many companies have been or still are considered to be “start-ups.” I have seen job after job where staff try to recreate documentation, methodologies, best practices from scratch, for the sole reason that they are not aware that these things already exist, perfectly tailored for their needs. So they start over, with clunky, ill-thought out plans and implementations that are destined for failure. People think that’s all that exists, and bring it to their next job, or worse, up the ladder as they get promoted.

Or the history of political conflict. In our world today there are governments who willfully mislead the people they are supposed to govern, whether to control, abuse, punish, destroy… the reasons are myriad. In every single instance these governments have employed tried and true methods that have proven successful in the past. Those who know history see this and try to stop it; the larger majority of those that don’t know history simply believe, and let their freedoms and opportunities be curbed with little protest by egomaniacal despots.

Now that almost everyone is online, the history we do keep becomes distorted, whether intentionally or not, and without the great efforts of far too few (like Wikipedia or Snopes), it might be lost altogether. Students are encouraged to research and learn from this worldwide web of deceit; adults easily and without thought share infographics and memes that misquote, mislead, and misinform. And what’s sort of insane about all that, is far too many people these days don’t want to know the truth; they would rather spend time and energy becoming angry with someone who points out the truth of the information they shared than be thankful to learn something new – and true.

Why is this happening? Who is in control here? Where are the adults? Oh shit – that’s now us.

Are you past middle age? Well guess what, you have the responsibility to preserve history. Do it on a grand scale or a small scale, but that’s part of your job now. Without you doing your job well, our history will be lost. We all have our part to play in this, and no one is exempt. But we sure have dropped the ball.

If we knew our history, we’d remember that children are a product of their environment, that teenagers are going through hormonal changes that are temporary, and that this often exhibits itself in behavioural issues that are also temporary. We’d know that education is key, that it must be taught early and often, that it is the difference between poverty and middle class, between conflict and peace, between terror and wisdom. We’d know that violence is imitated, but so is kindness, that punishment does not necessarily lead to fewer crimes, that hatred is inherited and viral. We’d know that other cultures deemed “different” than us have been demonized for centuries, that it’s not always the same culture, that it’s always a tool to spread fear and conflict, and that it’s always inaccurate. We’d know that Jacques Cousteau was warning people about climate change seventy years ago and that this is not a new event taking our generation by surprise, but an issue our parents ignored and that we are ignoring and passing off to yet another generation, which may no longer be able to do anything about it.

History is key. Without history, we have nothing. And without those to chronicle it, we have no history.

They say history is written by the victor, but that’s not entirely true. It’s just that the victor takes the time to write it down, store it safely, pass it on.

What about your own family? Did your grandparents write down or pass along the small details that tell the story of your past, that explain where you came from, and give you the chance to untangle who you really are from the traits you’ve inherited? Did your parents do the same? Are you capturing these details to pass along to your own children or just to leave a coherent story of a life that would otherwise be forgotten?

We owe it to ourselves and future generations to leave a record of our existence, to leave lessons learned so that they don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but can move forward, progress instead of regress, achieve instead of decline. If you haven’t started recording your own history, give it a try before it’s too late.

And remember to make a backup.

– R.K. Finch