Monday, November 8, 2010


We believe that the world we've inherited has an immense momentum; that actions taken in the past have bequeathed us the mix of constraints and possibilities within which we act today; that the stage onto which each generation walks has already been set, key characters introduced, major plots set in motion, and that while the next act has not been written, it's likely to follow on, in undetermined ways, from the previous action. This is not to say that history repeats itself. Time is not a carousel on which we might, next time round, snatch the brass ring by being better prepared. Rather we see the past as flowing powerfully through the present and think that chartering historical currents can enhance our ability to navigate them.
Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, Gotham: A History of New York to 1898, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), Kindle Location 498-503.
It is often said that those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it. Although there is some validity to this statement, I do not think it is completely accurate. Each generation & each time period has the ability to make a distinct change & mark. However, that being stated, we often find ourselves in situations and places that were pre-determined for us. The "act" of which is our lives has essentially been set in motion. The possibilities & constraints we face each day are often determined by factors out of our own control. Many of these factors are unfair and biased against those who have less power, influence, and status in society. As a result, we often see a repeat on history. Its why Otto von Bismarck was able to point out that some damn fool thing in the Balkans would trigger a war even before Ferdinand was shot.

All of that being said, the value of history comes into play when we realize that studying our past, its characteristics, and its "currents" - we better prepare ourselves for what the future will certainly deal us. Coaches don't study game film because their opponents will run the exact same script. They study game film because it prepares them for the possibilities of what might come. History provides the navigation to handle our lives. We know recessions will come and will go. We know that conflict results when we force our ethnocentrism on others. We know that religion is often polluted and abused for personal & powerful gain. We know that the rich like being rich and the poor are at a distinct disadvantage. We have seen each of these scenarios time and time again.

Our best hope then is to study, read and learn from what our past has shown us. What can history prepare us for tomorrow? Because although it will never, ever be the exact same - perhaps we can recognize the small clues and patterns that enable us to actually grab the brass ring. Our future has largely already been determined. But what can we do in the intangibles to make a difference?