Learning From The Past Without Living In The Past

Talking about the past is a subject that in one way or another involves everyone regardless of their status in life. Afterall, the past contains a record, whether documented or undocumented, of our history. I am going to consider the principle and practice of learning from the past without living in the past in my column today. The past in all our lives contains a treasure house of valuable information and narratives that can enrich our lives and well-being. Here are a few of the nuggets that anyone can mine from their past, as well as the past of others.

Learning from
Past Mistakes
One of the great lessons of bygone days is that it teaches those of us who are serious students of history how to avoid making or repeating the same mistakes over and over again.
Though this should be the case for everyone who is sane and rational, there are those who seem to be unable (or perhaps unwilling is a more appropriate term) to learn from their past or previous mistakes.
This is the case for some in nearly every area of life and human endeavor and relations.
Can this be the reason why so many jump in and out of multiple marriages, change jobs so often, and even hop from church to church?
Perhaps the reason why such people cannot stay put is due to their unwillingness to learn from their own mistakes and therefore, they are continually blaming others for the reason they resigned or abandoned their obligation and commitment.
There are many things that the past can teach us if we would be willing to learn. Our nation (that is so divided and polarized) can glean some valuable wheat from the fields of yesterday that will help to nurture us and make us strong and unified, if we would learn from the lessons of our past. I will conclude this section with a very relevant saying from George Santayana that I have used in my sermons and writings many times before: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Learning from the Past Achievements of Others
As equally or even more important as learning from past mistakes are the lessons to be gleaned from past achievements and breakthroughs. Where would our culture be if we ignored or disregarded the successes of previous generations in the medical field, scientific research and discovery field, technology field, and all other areas that have made an impact on the well-being of our species? For certain, we have learned the foolishness of trying to reinvent the wheel and other foundational things that we stand upon. The achievements of those who came before us have afforded a great advantage in nearly every area and aspect of human endeavor and enterprise. We are standing on the shoulders of giants like Sir Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Madam Marie Curie, George Washington Carver, Earnest E. Just, Charles R. Drew, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and a host of others. Without the foundational breakthroughs of these pioneers and trailblazers, we would still be in the stone age. In all of our lives (from the time we were born until this present time), we have learned valuable lessons from the lives and experiences of others. Not only have we lived vicariously through reading about others in books, but more importantly, many of us have assimilated through association many valuable lessons about life through mentors who shared their previous experiences with us. I have greatly benefitted from listening to and asking questions from people who were seniors who had an intriguing, informative, and inspiring story to tell or information to share. Listening to older people who have already gone where you are going and pretty much done what you aspire to do will put you ahead of the class and give you an education that will certify and help you to succeed in many areas of life. So, if you are fortunate to interact with older and more experienced people, take advantage of their presence and glean as much as you can from them by listening and occasionally asking them questions about their life’s journey and experiences.

Do Not Live
in the Past
Up to this point, our discussion and emphasis has been focused on learning from the past, learning from mistakes, and learning from successes. However, since there is a category of people who seem to have become frozen in time in more ways than one, I deem it necessary to conclude my comments today on the matter of not living in the past. In an unmistakable way, we are all (to some extent) time travelers who deal and live in three dimensions of time. Firstly, and most importantly, we exist in the present where we physically live, breathe, and have our subsistence. Secondly, we aspire, we plan, and have great hope and anticipation for the future.
Finally, we have memories of our past that are both fond and sad. We relish our history and ancestry and the family roots and tree that we are derived from. We celebrate and commemorate those special events and times that serve as memorials like birthdays, graduations, weddings, and even the passing of special people that we endeared. However, as cherished as these reflections are, we must not allow ourselves to become so transfixed on them that we become captives of the past and thereby, lose our zest and quest to live our lives to the fullest.
I will close with a stanza from the song One Day at a Time: “Yesterday’s gone, Sweet Jesus. And tomorrow may never be mine. Lord, help me today; show me the way, one day at a time.”

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