Learning from history

Apr 19, 2012 By Betty Starks Case

"Those who misquote are doomed to paraphrase."

I don't know the wag that posted this line to correct me when I was looking for philosopher George Santayana online, but it brought a chuckle and got me on the right track.

According to Google, Santayana's correct maxim uttered way back in 1905 goes this way:

"Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it."

I've noticed that electronic media and print news reporters are doing a lot of looking back lately. And I wonder: Is this simply the natural response to a shaky economy? A search for the elusive good ol' days? A time when life was less complicated, making it seem we had fewer worries and problems?

Then again, perhaps we're delving into times like the 1930s to remind ourselves that things could be worse because they have been. But our ancestors survived, didn't they?

I like philosophers. Generally, they're thinkers and believe in learning from experience.

Like the couples who told their magazine stories of how the current Great Recession changed them.

Many, of course, got stuck with home payments they couldn't handle. Some moved in with family members for a short period until they could figure out what to do. Many lost jobs. Even some who lost 30 years of savings to the crook of all crooks, Bernie Madoff, drew positives from the experience and are forging ahead in the new ways they've discovered because they had to. They're looking to the past and learning from it.

They tell of gathering in groups for strength to bear their misfortune and to share the ways they might survive.

A lifelong city girl found she could raise her own garden and home can food for her family, a practice she'd always thought belonged only to the older generation and poor people. Now she learned how good food could taste without all the additives, along with knowing the pride in preserving and serving healthful food to her family while stretching food budget dollars.

A Mexican immigrant columnist, whose family had long followed such practices to survive in the U.S. wondered, a bit tongue in cheek, "What took you guys so long to become Mexican?"

Some people learned to use a debit card instead of the credit variety. They said the realities of income and outgo became much more real when they had to subtract a debit just like a check from available funds. Somehow, delayed credit card billing seemed to convince shoppers that the entire process was airborne and might never descend on them for payment.

Something I found surprising but encouraging in recent articles was that many more couples are staying married and working out their problems. That's not always possible, but apparently a large number found it was. I'm envisioning some happy children here.

Walmart reports the sale of more home sewing products. Both men and women are discovering jobs they can do for themselves that they did not do prior to the recession.

Some say that in losing so much, they also lost their attachment to the material things they'd thought they needed to be happy. They say the experience taught them the value of people over things. They learned they could give more to the needy. And that even when their income is small, it is wise and possible to save a bit just in case -- something my generation was taught in post-Depression childhood.

And because my generation lived it, I'd assure those who struggle that the experience really can build strength and keep you from falling into the bondage of mistakes and misjudgments again.

I'm proud of these modern people who display the true spirit of America when their lives have been turned upside down, just as their ancestors did. Looking to the past for guidance doesn't mean you reject or ignore the progress in our world. It simply means you don't discard the good stuff just because it's history.

I think Santayana would agree.

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