02/25/2013 10:59 am ET Updated Apr 27, 2013

History: Tenacious Teacher or Torturer?

We've heard it said: "History is our teacher."

A teacher succeeds or fails based on their students' ability (and desire) to learn.

What has history taught you? What life lessons have richly rewarded or drastically damaged you? How much have you paid in time, money, health (physically and emotionally) or related resources when you repeat a life lesson?

Tradition and routine represent two tenacious teachers. How do you feel about teachers in general? What kind of student are you these days? For many, history weaves the warp of time with the weft of experience into a brilliant mosaic cloth of memories. Just how does memory serve us? In some cases, memories bless us in their teachings. Such blessings form the rock solid foundations of our internal wisdom. Some memories form the basis of repetitious torture when we repeat lessons we know we should have learned the first time around. Lessons such as:

  • Poverty (not just financial)
  • War (not just nations)
  • Prejudice (not just race)
  • Illness (not just disease)

These featured few examples of torture hold great meaning. Why? Historical records well document the lessons of poverty, war, prejudice and illness. Do such lessons enslave or free us? If history is our teacher in the forms of tradition, routine or meaning, what lessons have we learned? What grade do you give yourself? Your family? Community? State? Nation?

Care to hit the books to craft a grade? Ready for a quick challenge? Pick a historical point in time. A time you're really drawn to. It doesn't matter when. Pick a date span you like as well. Review the following issues in their historical context:

  • Poverty (not just financial)
  • War (not just nations)
  • Prejudice (not just race)
  • Illness (not just disease)

Your review need not take too much time. A quick review of the daily issues in a recognized recorder of the times (newspaper, court documents, academic studies) along with what shows up in advertising (magazines, flyers, latest health related tonics) speaks volumes. From your research, have we really changed levels of poverty, war, prejudice or illness? Or have we become more savvy in our ways to make it seem we've learned from our history?

Clearly, history provides us many teachers, especially in extreme moments. We witness the rally to the cause when something drastic or unexpected happens (disasters, disease, death). Why only then? Why do we return to some level of historical comfort? Or less dramatic, on a more annual cycle, if the spirit of the holidays inspires us to be more generous with our resources, why do we historically become less generous once the moment has passed?

  • Limited resources?
  • Law of diminishing returns (too much of a good thing diminishes it's goodness)?
  • Fear of being beholding to the gift giver (gifts with unknown strings attached)?
  • Thermodynamics (systems striving to find an equilibrium pre/post change)?

Or is it all about the comfort of known cycles. Clearly, what is known is far more comfortable than the unknown.

If we know it's just temporary, do we enslave ourselves to repetition? Now repetition is helpful to learn something new. Repetition helps to create such familiarity that something becomes a norm. The question then turns to what is normal. A new norm of poverty? War? Prejudice? Illness? Such norms may carry a high expense, in more ways than one.

Once we've reached a normed level, do we find ourselves ready for a new lesson, or numbed to repeat a comfortable, historical cycle? For many, most norms seem to carry a high price For some -- they avoid such costs by simply observing the smallest details. Those tiny, almost transparent details. Such detail is the voice of intuition. Have you heard your intuition lately? If so, just how much do you trust it? This voice allows us to tap into the powerful teacher history really is -- real time!

Intuition plants the seeds of hope if we allow it, hope in the form of active awareness of each lesson as it's taught. In learning our lessons, history may help us become lively, engaged, empowered students. Students who embrace change. Embrace change to the point that no one is hungry, homeless or hurt. Ever.

While it's true adversity is a teacher, it's equally true a safe space/place inspires learning too! Those who practice the popular notion of no pain, no gain seem to engage an insidious cycle where joy is suspect and pain is normed even rewarded! Once we norm pain, does that help or hinder our history teacher? Over time and experience (the two ingredients we mix together to make wisdom), just how much pain do we need to tap into the lessons history teaches us?

May we allow the wisdom of the ages to inspire us to learn and grow, painlessly.

May we engage a teacher not anchored in routine, past meaning or fear of change, but a teacher who helps us dance with the common sense of ageless wisdom.

May these words help us kick up our heals and enjoy a lively dance.

May the rhythm of cycles inspire us to nurture the seeds of hope to help us create new meanings.

May these new meanings painlessly nurture our bodies, minds and souls -- individually and collectively, teaching us how history is a powerful teacher.

Now, the question becomes: "Do we wish to re-learn?"

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