Living Here

Opinion/Editorial from Terry O’Neill, Lake Geneva resident and former alderman:

When a Lake Geneva Alderperson says “history is not important”, that error in thinking requires a response.
Our known history is mankind’s collective memory/record of the past, and it is a description of the path that life has taken to get to us, and it is a description of how the benefits that we have today came to us. How important is that collective memory to mankind? It is as important to mankind’s survival as one’s personal memory is to one’s own survival. We may forget a lot of things, and much of the past has already been forgotten, but what we remember and use is the foundation of life both individually and collectively. History (our personal history as well as the history of the world) explains the environment and organizational structures that we have today. It gives us our understanding of the world around us and how it functions and how it got to be the way it is today. It gives us the security of knowing where we are in space and time, and it provides a perspective from which we can view the future, as well as supplying the tools that we use today. It also helps us explain the motivation, purpose and direction of our actions today.

Believed history, even if it is in error, gives peace of mind and explains the world around us and how it functions. That memory provides security for the present, and some certainty about the future, but the true value of history is best understood at the personal level where everything we say, do and think is part of our personal history. How important is one’s personal history? The clearest way to answer that question is to view it through the eyes of one who has lost their personal history. The loss of one’s personal history is like advanced Alzheimer’s disease, where one loses memory which is the foundation that enables one to function and relate to others, and to one’s environment. Without the memory of one’s personal history, one can not recognize friends and loved ones. One will not recognize where one is, know how one got here, or even where here is. This creates chaos which is frightening to the individual. The mind cannot live with this chaos. It will accept, imagine or create an explanation to eliminate the fear that the chaos is causing. Human history is not just the study of man’s struggle to survive and to overcome obstacles to his survival, but also the attempts and struggles to explain and overcome the fears of the unknown, and to understand ourselves and the world.

It is a struggle that every individual and society that has ever lived has gone through. Studying history enables us to connect with people from the past, and begin to know them and learn from them. Without the knowledge that mankind has gained from those in the past, each generation would be as lost and helpless as a new born infant. We owe a lot to those in the past, and as we continue to study the past we are gaining even more from them. The individual bits from the past may not seem important, but each bit is like a single pixel on a screen, adding more clarity to the picture and giving us a better understanding of them and ourselves. “We the people” includes and means more than just the founding fathers who wrote it. “We the people” includes those living today, people who will live in the future, as well as those who lived in the past. The lives of those who lived in the past, and those who will live in the future, are neither less nor more important than those living today. Like rungs on a ladder every life is important no matter when or where it is lived.

Cartoon of the Week

Cartoon by Terry O'Neill Lake Geneva



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