September 30, 2017 Why History Matters

Recently, a colleague of mine told me about a meeting with our director, during which the director said, “I don;t care about what happened before. That’s history and I want to move on.” The colleague politely informed the director that he better care about history because we are making the same mistakes we’ve made in the past. The arrogance of our director’s statement doesn’t surprise me. In fact, it’s reflective of his attitude for the past three years as he’s come in and tried to “fix’ all the problems he’s perceived throughout his career in government service. That’s the irony of the whole thing–he is reflecting on history in his effort to transform the agency, and our community, yet he specifically and conclusively states that he doesn’t care about history. But history matters.

I’ve taken to reading and listening to historical material as I prepare for a new assignment. It’s been refreshing and enlightening to learn more about things I thought I already knew well. It’s also opened my eyes even more clearly to the fact that history continues to repeat itself and simultaneously create slight modifications to culture, society, laws, customs and morals that have allowed us, and simultaneously forced us, to evolve in ways we don’t understand without reflections on the past.

History also informs us, as human beings who have lived a specific period of time (for example, 50+ years), in ways that allow us to understand a scenario differently than others (e.g. our children or friend’s children) who have less than half our experience (aka history). This experience allows us to make decisions that are better informed, but also drives us crazy when our lesser experienced counterparts pass up a seemingly no-brainer decision. History matters and sometimes we won’t recognize why until it becomes history.

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