Abraham Lincoln once said “The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time,” and that my friends is a good thing, for 2016 promises to be an eventful year. There are so many things happening that can totally upend the world and our way of life going on that if we just tried to think about them all at once they could be overwhelming. Lincoln himself lived in such a time, and I think that his perspective is good to remember. 2015 was a year of triumph and tragedy that filled the hearts of many with fear and unease. At the same time it is now in the past. It cannot be relieved or changed but we can take the time to learn from it and hopefully build a better future.
I am a historian. For me history is not just something dead in the past but a living reality that influences us in everything we do. As such I thing we need to learn lessons from history and apply that knowledge to what we do now. We do not live in a vacuum, if we did we would be very dusty and always spinning around, but I digress…
I think that we have to learn from the past in order to be ready for the future. But the future is unknown and often uncharted. Thus we should as George Patton said “Prepare for the unknown by studying how others in the past have coped with the unforeseeable and the unpredictable.” That really is the reason I study history, not so we have a laundry list of facts events and dates that I can use to prove my point but rather to see how people and nations dealt with things that they either could not or did not foresee. Human nature doesn’t change and while circumstances and technology may change the way people deal with unforeseeable events can help us navigate future difficulties. It is not a guarantee but it is helpful when we face uncertain times.
Dallas Maverick’s owner Mark Cuban wrote, “None of us are born into the world we live in.” That is so true because we are all born at a moment in time and the world is always changing and changing is ways that will always surprise us. Maybe not some of the events themselves, but the players that make things happen, the places that they happen and the speed of which they happen. Time stands still for no person. The world that I was born into in 1960 is far different than the one that I live in today, and the one that will most likely exist if I live into my eighties, though I want to live to be at least 105 in order to lead a staff ride at the bicentennial of the Battle of Gettysburg.
Though the future is yet to be written, some people want to go back to some point in time where their myth of history tells them that things were better, and they want to attempt to recreate such times. We see this with the Taliban, the self-proclaimed Islamic State, various Christian groups, and even in the various factions of American political life, especially the Tea Party. But such thinking, while often comforting, is pure fantasy and is quite delusional. Golda Meir was quite right when she observed, “One cannot and must not try to erase the past merely because it does not fit the present.”
Of course Mrs. Meir was correct, and in a similar manner attempts to recreate the past in the present as are the groups that I mentioned are trying to do are chimeras, for then we would be trying to erase the present because it does not fit in with a past that only exists in history, and the future is yet to be written. As a historian I believe that the past is amazingly helpful in helping to guide us in the present, but we cannot mythologize that past and attempt to impose it on the present, nor the future.
2016 will be an eventful year and maybe even a crucial year for the United States and the world, and we do not know how it will unfold. So it is left for us to stop living in the past, fully embrace the present and take the future as it comes. We certainly must look to the past to see how others dealt with the unforeseen, for as Gabe Paul said about baseball, “there’s a crisis everyday.,” Of that fact we can be certain, there will be a crisis of some kind every day this year and we will have to deal with them. How we do so will be what counts.