History, change and memory.
There was a sign up in my room when I was in junior high ‘Those who do not learn their history are doomed to repeat it … next year.’ Yeah, it’s an old pun. At the time, my father was trying to get me interested in history. In the end, I got caught up by the repeating patterns of history and how people make the same mistakes over and over again. Example? The easy one is Napoleon’s assault on Russia and Hitler’s ‘I’ve got a better idea ooooh no I don’t!’ assault on Russia. The lesson? Never get involved in a land war in Aisa.
But history is more than just a list of fuck ups and fuck ups 2.0. History is a living, breathing and changing entity. It shouldn’t be, but it is. Mostly becuase history is written by the people who win, and they color the facts with their own hues. And if, by chance, the losers write the history, it’ll sound completely different. The example? Again, the easy Vietnam. When I was born, high schoolers were told that the USA won the war. When I was is elementary school, I was told we fought to a stalemate. When I was in high school, I was told we lost.
History adapts to the feel of the times, and often is not the truth at all. If it is the truth, then it’s not the whole truth. Still, we can’t ignore history just becuase it’s not entirely honest. If we ignore history, we’ll forget it. And even watching the fluidity of history, we learn about human nature and how we adapt, change and tweak the world.
History changes, and with that change comes a greater understanding of how humans fit in the grand scheme of thing. Religion and fate talks aside, history is the study of change.
Change is good.
Seriously. A lot of people hate change, and are angered when their world gets a little bit different. They bitch and moan, thrash and gnash their teeth, all the while trying to keep the world the same. Those people want the world to be a static object. The way things are, they believe, are the way things really should remain.
I’m not one of those people.
Oh sure, if I woke up and found the sky was puce, the grass was orange and the water was tan, I might have a problem. But change is a good thing. Benjamin Franklin pointed out that “when you stop changing, you stop.” He’s right.
Look at the document you’re reading. It was written on a computer using not quite the latest, but a pretty recent version of a word processing program. Is this better than writing out my words by hand? Poor handwriting aside, yes.
So why is all this change important? In the corporate world in which I have worked, they would tell you that change is synonymous with progress, and only with progress can we anticipate the needs of our clients. The changing needs of our clients.
That always made someone argue that if it ain’t broke, why should we fix it? And I would often reply that if we could improve upon it, whatever it was, and make it so that in a few years it wouldn’t break, then our clients would never see it broken and we’d look better.
In that world, it’s about appearances. And yet it made me wonder. The corporation was only changing because they wanted to stay ahead of the curve and make the adjustments that would, sooner or later, be required. But why? Why did the clients want to change?
The clients wanted to change because we are all predisposed to the belief that things can get better. Everyone alive has, at one point or another, believed that they can be better, do better, live better. Many people feel they deserve that better life.
The world changes every day, and day by day the world becomes a different place to live. We all dream and we all have imagination. Albert Einstein said “imagination is more important that knowledge.” My father told me that once when I was a child, and asked me what I thought. I replied “without imagination, what can we do with our knowledge?”
Dreams and hope are why we change. Look at everything you own. From your hammer to your computer, these items began their lives in a dream. I could list the dreams and hopes that I feel have made the world better, but that would take more paper and ink and time than anyone has. Dreams change the world simply because they exist.
The catch to all this change is that it’s all outward. Outwardly, we’re always changing and evolving. Inwardly, however, we’re the same. We still fear what is different, we fight, we hate, we love, we die. So while everything around us changes, we stay the same people, with the same flaws and merits.
The world is never going to stop changing. The world keeps moving, and so many people say that you have to try to keep up with it. Personally, I think that’s a load of shit. You don’t have to do anything. You always have choices. You may not like them, and they may be hard choices where you don’t get what you want. But oh yes, you always have a choice.
Someone once said that the only constants in the universe were death and taxes. We do all die eventually, but while we live, we have a chance to change the world. We all have a chance to dream and maybe make our dream a little less impossible.
A single dream is not enough to start a change.
So as not to repeat history, we must remember it. So as not to reject change we must remember what we’ve done and what we have yet to do.
But what is memory? Why do we remember some things with shocking clarity and others with the haze of a foggy day? Take, for example, the Sept. 11, 2001 destruction of the World Trade Centers. Almost everyone who has relations with the United States of America will remember the day, and probably everyone who was in New York then will remember where they were, what they were doing, and how they felt. That memory will never fade.
It’s something that’s so much bigger than ourselves.
We can all remember with far too much accuracy big things in our lives. When a child is born to your family. A wedding. A car accident. Stealing a Reeses Peanut Butter Cup from a vending machine. But when something that big happens, everyone knows and it affects every life you know. That gets hammered into a special place in your brain and it’s just burnt in. It feels larger then life, but it’s the moment when you realize how small and simple life is, and that we’re that small.
Americans don’t get that feeling very often (nor do most Canadians) because we so rarely have wars on our soil and we’re rather inured to the rampant violence that you see so often in cities. And yet that violence is low level. It’s the sort of thing you tune out, like a homeless person on the subway or the dead animal in the road. You ignore and you make sure you don’t remember. Someone was shot and killed by the bank I used to go to, and while I look at the crosswalk where she died, I realize that most people won’t remember that it was right there where she died. Someone who walks down that road every day may never remember her name or why she died or that a daring taxi cab driver risked his life to help the cops arrest her killer. And yet if I asked that same stranger where they were on 9/11/01, they’d know.
It’s the big things that just are there, hitting you like a ton of bricks, flashing you in the face. You can’t forget them. If you’re lucky, you’ll have some good ones to counteract the horror. It’s a societal memory that will forever be ingrained in the American psyche.
It is now history. It may one day be forgotten, and it’s forced us to change. It’s a change we’ve needed, though I’d have rather see it come from a less violent impetious.