When people think of "history," they generally think of the history classes that they took in grade school, high school and possibly in college. I remember studying history in school and repeatedly hearing my classmates complain that the material was boring and that the past held little or no importance to them. I think it is essential that we discuss the importance of history.
In his inaugural lecture of 1895, Lord Acton said, "'The knowledge of the past, the record of truths revealed by experience, is eminently practical, as an instrument of action and a power that goes to making the future.' (Essays on Freedom and Power, New York, 1957, 25-26)." I discovered Lord Acton's quote in an article by James J. Sheehan titled How Do We Learn from History? In that article, Mr. Sheehan says the following: "Historical analogies, comparisons, and metaphors are all around us; they are a source of collective wisdom on which we must rely.... In learning lessons from the past, differences are often as valuable as similarities."
You might be asking yourself what history has to do with family law. I am afraid that it has a great deal to do with family law and life in general. "As I said before, everyone makes mistakes. However, how can we learn from our mistakes, if we don't even admit making any? [The challenge is to] learn from your mistakes and experiences, but don't obsess over the past because you can't change it. [Unfortunately,] we are living in a day and age in which almost nobody takes personal responsibility for their actions and behavior.... Self-awareness can be rather painful because it forces us to recognize our mistakes and imperfections. However, we must always remember that 'to err is human' and nobody is perfect." Remember, any "mistakes" we may have made occurred in the past and are therefore "history." Thus, if we can learn from our "mistakes," we are learning lessons from our own personal "history." It does us absolutely no good at all to "spin" our history, "play the blame game," or otherwise reinvent it because we won't learn anything by playing such games.
Some of us are self-aware and benefit significantly from the lessons we learn from our past experiences. Unless I am missing something, the ultimate trick is to avoid making certain mistakes altogether by learning from the mistakes that others have made in the past.
In a number of my prior articles, I have quoted a book titled Broken Circle - Children of Divorce and Separation, Photography by Karen Klein and Commentary by Broken Circle participants. "The Broken Circle project gives voice to young adults talking about how their parents' divorce or separation impacted their lives then and now." While reading that book, I discovered a number of patterns. In other words, the stories from these now young adults allow us to learn from history. As with all history, we may learn both what to do and what not to do.
On January 25, 2014, I had the pleasure of watching SPLIT, a documentary by Ellen Bruno. As stated below, "SPLIT is a candid, poignant, and often humorous film about kids and divorce." Unlike Broken Circle, SPLIT provides us the opportunity to learn lessons regarding the impact of divorce and parents' behavior from children who are currently living through their parents' divorce as minors. It can be no surprise that children's sense of a perfect family is one in which the parents are married and love each other. While some children are fortunate enough to have such "perfection" in their lives, those whose parents don't love each other and/or whose parents divorce experience a less than "perfect" family, to say the least. In their own words, these children convey how it impacts them when their parents scream at each other, whether or not they remain married. For those parents who may have forgotten how they would sometimes "spy" on their parents, these children remind us that what we do in "private" is not necessarily so "private." These children explain how parents "don't think of their kids." They explain how it impacted them when the divorce was a complete surprise and they just woke up one day to learn that one of their parents had moved out. By the way, that little "surprise" has long-term implications that can be seen in patterns shown in Broken Circle. The children explain why it is important for them to know (in an age appropriate manner) why their parents are divorcing. For those of you who bother to read Broken Circle, you will see this same "theme" recurring and why it is important. The unfortunate reality is that parents tend to tell their children completely inappropriate things and fail to share with their children information that is so desperately needed by them. I can go on and on, but I don't want to share too much from the documentary because I firmly believe that all separating and divorcing parents with minor children would benefit from watching it. In addition, their children would benefit by hearing these stories from their peers.
From my perspective, enlightened parents are those who are willing to learn from both the successes and failures of others. Contrary to the wishes of the children interviewed in SPLIT, we cannot go back in time and undo the mistakes that we made. Moreover, some of these mistakes will haunt parents and their children for generations to come. Let's toast to the importance of history and better yet, the enlightenment that comes through learning from the past!
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