We can’t possibly know where we’re going until we know where we’ve been.
In this multi-media age, with data whizzing around the globe in huge volumes at lightening speeds; and with something ‘new and improved’ being ballyhooed every second of every day, that truism is not always easy to hold onto. But it is, nonetheless, true.
When we look back we learn two things about where we are: first, that we’re way better off then our ancestors, and have a lot to be thankful for; second, that we have lost a tremendous amount of the things that made life richer and more meaningful in those bygone days.
It is the tension between those two, contradictory poles where we can learn the lessons history has to teach.
In the catalogue of gains, we in the ‘developed world’ enjoy a standard of living that could only be attained by the wealthiest if you go back even as far as the 19th Century. Look at almost any material aspect of our lives, and there can be no doubt we enjoy amenities kings and queens of the Victorian era would have marvelled at and envied.
That progress has been made possible by our ever expanding knowledge of the world, and how things work. In the fields of science, psychology and philosophy, there again can be little doubt we have made unbelievable strides.
But there’s an obverse to that coin. Our privileged, consumerist ethic is no longer sustainable. We are overtaxing and overburdening the planet that sustains us, and are long past the point where we can continue to simply take what we want without any concerns for other people, other species, or our own fellows in less privileged parts of the world.
History has valuable lessons to teach in that regard. People in past epochs relied on each other in more obvious ways every single day. They knew each other directly, at the community level, and shared life experiences more closely. The Ladysmith & District Historical Society’s relationship to this town’s ‘strategic plan’ (see page 4) is very real, considered from that perspective.