My students in my 6th grade elementary classroom used to ask me the same question every year. "Mr. Bell, why do we have to learn about history? What good does it do us?" It was an easy answer for me, which wasn't always the case with 6th grade questions! I explained to them that people and their basic needs have never really changed throughout the ages. Improvements in life and changes to our world have occurred but people are basically the same. I talked to them a little bit more about their basic needs. They understood that kids in the past needed to feel loved and accepted. They had decisions to make whether right or wrong just like we do today. They needed food, water, shelter. They enjoyed beautiful things and they learned to speak and read. They played, laughed and cried. They were happy at times, and sad at others. Once my students became aware of this history took on a whole new meaning.
Too often we think that we are special, perhaps better than those who have lived before. Possibly better by virtue of what we know? Or maybe we feel we are greater somehow than those who came before us because of the wealth that we enjoy? All of those notions are false. In fact those that lived before us per capita were much more committed to important things in life like family, friendship, trust and perhaps belief in God. Our "things" have caused us to lose sight of many of these values, and have caused us to become selfish. I had a cousin comment today how people can be so different in their views. Some of that is from the way we were raised but how do we get to the outer fringes of despair or ignominy? How do people get to the point where they have no regard for life or have no trust in their fellow men? There is not one of us on the earth that could not go down the path that another takes. Why is it that only some do?
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So why is history important? It allows us to see the successes and failures of others. We can then learn from them, and with that knowledge we can follow our own path which will hopefully take us to a better place. Even the unknowns in life are covered in history; death, sickness, a fall from grace. In each category there are those who have become miserable and those who have risen out of the ashes to enjoy life. The purpose of life in my opinion is to have joy. By definition we find it to mean;
1. To fill with ecstatic happiness, pleasure, or satisfaction.
2. To enjoy.
I would have to add "lasting" to this definition so it might conform to what I want out of life. Life is difficult enough for us without believing that we need to find all of the answers to it on our own. To learn from others mistakes is the best way to grow. The knowledge we gain will be greater than if we experience these pitfalls ourselves. A clear mind and a strong heart will help us to understand others and be able to lift them higher than relating to them because of our own failures would. As parents my wife and I never led our children to believe that we had all of the answers or that we were perfect. As they grew older and realized our weaknesses it was easier for them to understand us and accept us for who we are. It has always been the hope of my wife and me that our children will take the good from us and improve on the weak areas. Then, they will be better parents. That is learning from history.
Taking the time to delve into the lives of those who have passed on can only bring us closer to them and make history personal. This will allow us to grow and to hopefully experience the true joy that can come through the life of a single human being. That is why we study history!
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