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The Importance Of Our Collective History


By Marjorie Clark

A profusion of names and dates, a list of wars and acts of parliament – this probably constitutes our memory of our history classes in school, unless we were blessed with an inspired teacher. Well do I recall being lulled to sleep in the first class following lunch by the droning voice of my secondary school teacher of ancient history. Many of us were left with the opinion that history is irrelevant, only a recounting of the past, of no use in our modern day; that it has nothing to do with our lives. However, this is a case worth reviewing.

Despite this poor introduction to the subject, it is my belief that history is important to us as a nation, as families, as individuals. We use it, without realization, in our everyday lives.

What exactly is history anyway? The definition that I prefer is from the Concise Oxford Dictionary. It defines history as the “whole train of events connected with a nation, a person or a thing.”

Let’s say that we go to the doctor with a health problem. The doctor will examine us but will also ask us questions such as: When did this problem first occur? Have we experienced an attack of this problem previously? Has anyone else in our family ever suffered from this problem? He is gathering the history of our illness, accumulating background information to help him to make a diagnosis.

When we graduate from university and apply for a job, we submit official records of our studies called transcripts provided by the institution, where we studied, to our prospective employer. This history of our academic work enables the employer to assess our suitability for the position for which we are applying.

We consider the purchase of a new vehicle. Along with reading consumer reports on the current makes, we factor in our experience with previous models, as well as recommendations by our friends. We are making a decision partially based on knowledge obtained from our own and others’ history with automobiles.

In fact, all of our decisions in life are based, to varying degrees, on our past encounters. This process is familiar to us and is taken for granted as the logical way to function.

In the same way, we need to know our history as an individual. As the influences on our lives did not begin with us alone, we need to extend our knowledge to our family. Perhaps musical talent is prevalent in our family or we come from a long line of carpenters? Where did our left-handedness come from?

Our community is important. Does it have a tradition of pitching in to help neighbours, who have suffered a disaster? Do we hold garden parties or impromptu kitchen parties? We all appreciate the blessing of being Canadian, with our democratic, fair and compassionate ways ingrained in our society. All are vital to fully understand who we are and to make wise decisions about how we wish to conduct our lives. This thing we call history is the true story of how we got to this point and why we are as we are.

In Dreams from My Father, Barack Obama wrote: “… the past is never dead and buried – it isn’t even past.  This collective history, this past, directly touches my own.”

“Review the past for me,

Let us argue the matter together;

State the case for your innocence.”

Isaiah 43:26 NIV