By Craig Funston
I don’t know which is harder for me this early in the New Year: looking backwards or looking forward.
Looking ahead, we make resolutions, repair broken relationships, turn over new leaves, and anticipate plans for the next twelve months.
Looking back, we reflect on the “highlights,” which often work their way into our Christmas newsletters (even newspaper columns). But where are the “lowlights”? Do we gloss over problems from the past? Do we de-emphasize the disappointments, turning a blind eye to them? Sweeping the events of the past year under the proverbial carpet doesn’t mean they’ll go away.
Be it a Christmas newsletter, Canadian politics, or world affairs, we must consider the past in order to face the future. We ignore this principle at our peril.
So I draw from our past year or two: Did anyone anticipate the price of oil sitting this low, and creating this much unemployment? Or did anyone ever make the connection between Alberta and the NDP, or Canada and the Liberals?
Well, actually I did: I just didn’t think the results to be so pronounced.
Yes, I could see the ineptitude of the provincial Conservatives, and I could sense the insipidity of the federal Conservatives. Those facts were a start, but I never thought they would lead to the mess we’re in now.
You’d think voters were blindfolded and threw darts at the ballot. Surely no one could voted that way with their eyes open. How shortsighted could they be? Or more to the point, have they never examined the past?
I voted the way I did because I did examine the past (recent history, if you will). I was acutely aware of policies by both respective parties. Thus, because I learned by looking back, I am not surprised at what I see coming out of Edmonton and Ottawa.
Surprised, no; offended, alarmed, and disgusted, yes.
You see, when we look into the past, we can see certain developments, that may or may not, if unchecked, worsen in the future. But if we don’t take that look back, that is, if we don’t study the past and don’t interpret those facts accurately, we have only ourselves to blame.
Studying and interpreting are fine, but are useless unless we learn from the past
It has been said that those who don’t learn from history are bound to repeat it. Well said, and the operative word is “learn.” But studying it, then ignoring it, is a waste of time (and money, resources, maybe even lives). It is the ultimate futility.
Analyzing the past gives us a sense of the future. Disregarding the past gives us no sense for the future. And if we continue to pooh-pooh the past, the mess we’re already in is going continue into the future.
That’s why a minimal regard for history is very scary. I’d even go as far to say it is “irresponsible.” And even worse, what is being passed off as history in educational and media circles these days is pure tripe (an old line of mine).
But at the end of the day, we have no one to blame but ourselves if we ignore the past. And the penalty for ignoring lessons from the past? A very miserable future.
In other words, while I didn’t anticipate the socialist sweep of Alberta, or the liberal (lower case “l” intentional) success in Ottawa, I knew that any ground given to these parties would put us on bad footing (pun mercilessly intended) for the future.
Politics aside, one principle, that of cause and effect applies, whether from years ago, to decades ago, maybe even centuries ago–be it moral, cultural, or economic. For instance, the implosion of the nuclear family the last decade or two ago is catching up with us now. And the mess of “First Nations” ghettos, oops, reserves, established many decades ago is also catching up with us now.
Reflections on the past are necessary, both the highlights and the lowlights. We just need to learn from them. They should be applied to assessing and tracking the future. Learning from the past allows us to face the future equipped, alert, and pro-active.
So yes, it’s good to look forward at this time of year, but do not forget to glance backwards. Looking forward and backwards are clearly connected.
In other words, the roots of the past will produce the fruit of the future. And the question begs: What are we producing?
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