Friday, November 2, 2012

Falling Out of Favor

A friend and I were recently discussing certain things which seem to have fallen out of favor.

We can all acknowledge that today's world is defined by the here and now. There is little room for yesterday's news in our whirlwind existence. That's too bad. Ignoring the past narrows our frame of reference and deletes ideas and people which are extremely worthwhile and deserving of remembrance.

The late philosopher-poet George Santayana expressed an often-quoted opinion about this subject. He is noted for his statement that "Those who fail to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors are destined to repeat them." His concept has been often misquoted but the basic concept is simple: we should pay attention to the past and learn from it. A wise man indeed.

This morning's news about the recovery from Hurricane Sandy sparked a perfect example, not of historical importance but of common sense. The story was about the disruption in cell phone service following the recent storm and how pay telephones had been brought in to enable residents to contact family members and others who can assist. Apparently some people living on the East Coast had never before seen pay phones and had no idea how to use them.

I don't think this observation warrants comment. I merely wanted to pass this along. People who don't pay attention to what happened day before yesterday are missing a great deal.

In order to absorb information from the past, we need to be open to learning about things which existed outside of the past 24 hours. Two personal examples come to mind and are worth repeating.

While working in an office a few years back, I had a co-worker in her twenties who was responsible for several tasks which kept things moving smoothly for the staff. One day I was showing her a simple way to do two of the tasks at once so that she could achieve the same result more easily. "Sorry," she smiled. "I don't care to learn anything more. I've already learned all I want to learn."

The other example involved a comment I made one day regarding something about President Franklin Roosevelt. I don't even recall the context but it most likely had something to do with Social Security. The girl I was talking to rolled her eyes and sighed. "Well, that was WAY before my time. So I don't know anything about that." I calmly responded, "Franklin Roosevelt was WAY before my time, too. In fact, John Quincy Adams was WAY before my time, but I've heard of him."

I used to think that the casual dismissal of the past was something practiced by the so-called younger generation. Now I don't think that is entirely true. The under-20 group does live in its own world with its sense of infallibility and omnipotence. But that has been true since Elvis Presley first came on the scene and rock 'n' roll music separated us from our parents. (In truth, the separation probably goes back to the Pilgrims and even before.)

Perhaps it is natural that we forget a great deal about our past. I've heard a theory that the dominant role of computers has allowed us the luxury of forgetting a great deal of information. Instead of asking, "What was the name of the original Beatle that Ringo Starr replaced?" and perhaps trying to recall it, we now merely Google the question and immediately are provided with the answer (Pete Best). That requires a lot fewer mental gymnastics than a few years ago and we learn that we aren't compelled to recall relative minutia.

But in ignoring the past we seem to have lost a lot of practical knowledge (like how to sew a seam or prepare substitute cooking ingredients) as well of interesting things about numerous topics in the process.

We need to pay more attention to the past. This does not need to be as momentous as the name of the leader of the Nazi party during World War II or which scientist developed Polio vaccine. That data is available from several sources. Life involves a myriad of informational tidbits (how to make our own mayonnaise, the date of Aunt Susie's birthday, which color you get from blending yellow and blue) that we might want to recall.

Exercise those neurons one way or another. Assemble a puzzle or complete a word game. Occasionally pick up a book or magazine. Try something completely outside of your comfort zone.

You might be glad you did.

No comments:

Post a Comment