The meaning of learning about the past
We have all heard the phrases “Why learn History?”; “I don’t need history”; “History is unnecessary” and their million other brothers and sisters. As if that immaturity wasn’t childish enough, some time ago I heard a friend of mine say “They’re all dead, anyway!” I was shocked to realize that he was being serious, since I completely disagree. In my view, learning about the past has great value for those of us living in the present. The arguments below will explain why I hold this opinion.
Since people lived in tribes, slept in caves and were illiterate, many centuries passed so we can now live in organized societies, travel by modern cars and planes, and communicate by computers and mobile phones. But, for us to have what we do today, it took more than twenty centuries of hard work, generation after generation improving what the others left. However, for civilization to improve further more, we have to closely explore the past. To begin with, exploring the past makes one understand it; it helps us understand our present – from the evolution of humankind and why we are here, to the great conflicts of modern society. Secondly, by exploring the discoveries and achievements of the past and how they were made, we improve, and we are one step closer to making new breakthroughs. Thirdly, knowing about the great mistakes of the past and how they happened teaches us not to repeat them again. For example, since we know that the worst wars, ecological catastrophes or floods occurred because of human error, we’ll know how not to repeat them again.
One cannot simply disregard the past, for the valuable knowledge and experiences of the past inform our actions in the future. It’s not true that one should forget the past and move on, facing the future. No, the past isn’t something one should leave behind, but something one should understand and learn from in order to improve the future.