Sunday’s Wisdom #254: Learning from the Painful Past

“The slave quarters had been part of the history of this place, and even the ugly parts of history shouldn’t be forgotten. All the people who wanted every reference to the bad things we’d done in the past removed were fools. They were just trying to signal that they were better than their ancestors, but in fact, we’re no different. We’ve just got hindsight and their mistakes to learn from. If we forget the atrocities of the past, we’ll repeat them in the future, just with prettier names and new justifications.”
– Julie Shackleford-Pitt, from Monster Hunter Guardian, by Larry Correia

I usually try to keep things of obvious potential for political diatribe off my blog, but I make an exception this time. Politics are driven by human nature and human behavior, after all, and these words provide me a valuable, if also unflinching, insight.

There was a time, when I was a rebellious kid, when I wanted to grow up, get married, have kids, and then show my dad how he ought to have done things, because, like most kids, I thought I knew better than my parents. I mean, I was told how smart I was, and I was told how mature I was, and I was certain that I knew better than him how he should have been raising me (typically in ways that were more centered around the things I liked). So I was determined to be a better dad than my own, because I was already so much better, right?

Yes, I was an idiot, of mind-numbing proportions.

I mistook the potential for doing one thing better, through the lens of my perception of what was “better,” as an assurance that I already was better, so there was nothing left for me to learn from my parent.

Perhaps that is the sort of spirit which drives the effort to erase the reminders of a painful past, and rewrite the histories into something more “comfortable.” Or maybe not. Either way, it is a tremendous and terrible mistake.

Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.

My dad did far better than I ever gave him credit for as a kid, but, yes, he did make mistakes. If I try to forget those mistakes just because I don’t like them, then I can’t learn from them. I would just end up repeating them, or worse. But if I take what my father did right, and learn from his mistakes, then maybe, just maybe, I can be as good of a parent to my children as he was to me.

That’s the entire effort of humanity, really: to learn from previous mistakes, and do better.

But to learn from the past, we must keep it preserved as it truly was. We must see it.

If we tear it down, we can’t see it.

Out of sight, out of mind, as they say.

And thus we race towards repeating the atrocities of the past, just with new names and new reasons for the same old tragedies, all while judging the past that our ancestors, for all their flaws, gradually improved, to create the society we enjoy today.

The past teaches us everything we know. Let’s make sure we see it clearly.

That starts with remembering: we are no more or less human than any of our ancestral parents.

We are not “better.”

We are not “worse.”

We are the same, with the same lessons to learn.

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3 Responses to Sunday’s Wisdom #254: Learning from the Painful Past

  1. ospreyshire says:

    Good write up. Over the past few years, I’ve been teaching myself the history that I was never taught in schools. There were some very messed up things that don’t even get talked about it are minimized at best. When I took my DNA test to find out about the cultures I didn’t know were in my sample, I found amazing things I wish I knew and also atrocities against them where their oppressors got away with it. I have been lied to so much in school and with mainstream media. All I want is the truth and to share it even if it makes others uncomfortable. That and trying to not make mistakes helps.

    Liked by 1 person

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