In George Santayana's famous words, 'Those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.' Unfortunately the instinct for learning from history is weak and so we repeat the same mistakes again and again. Humankind lurches from fanatical intolerance to tolerance back to fanatical intolerance. The wisdom of Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed et al is set aside. The South Sea Bubble is forgotten. The annihilation of the Easter Islanders is unknown. The charge of the Light Brigade is as if it never was. And Turkey continues to deny its genocide of 1.5 million Armenians, a genocide that inspired Hitler a bare 25 years later.

In our age of short attention span, there is perhaps even less appetite for deep analysis, but there is a hunger to make history come alive again. People are scratching the sediment off their forgotten family forbears and finding out what life was like in their times. Restoring early houses. Putting up plaques to commemorate significant events and famous lives.

Cities and towns are getting into the act. Once a year Oamaru celebrates its gorgeous whitestone architecture by touting itself as a Victorian Town at Work where citizens and visitors can learn about and experience what life was like in Victorian New Zealand. click here

Auckland has its annual Heritage Festival while other towns have constructed Writers Walks and restored early buildings, not just the beautiful but also those with stories to tell of social fabric and bygone work communities.
Photo of Oamaru celebrations
Oamaru Celebrations
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Education, combined with a positive value on history, offers escape from the treadmill of mindless repetition. In countries that have achieved democracy organically, rather than having it thrust upon them, people understand the importance of participating in their governance and of maintaining a peaceful way of changing their leaders. But it's vital that they impart their understanding to new generations and don't forget the lessons that were learned the hard way. Every country needs to cherish the facutly of critical self-evaluation.

In the 1980s we seemed to want to forget almost every lesson our mothers ever taught us about conservation, healthy diet, valuing the small and beautiful, the deeper contentment of spiritual as against material living. Now that we are being forced to consider the planet, these lessons come back to us, offering a template for a simpler lifestyle which we can develop and refine for our times. Acknowledgement of the past can help us find our way again and enable old wounds to heal.

You must always know the past, for there is no real Was, there is only Is.

William Faulkner