Learning From History: The Good and the Bad

“A republic perishes when its citizens no longer remember their past. Without an active remembrance of those who founded and protected its institutions through good times and bad, its citizens gradually lose sight of the virtues that made their republic great. Failing to cultivate those virtues will lead them to squander their precious inheritance… Today the past is more often treated as a cautionary tale instead of a guide. Rather than emulating our forbearers’ virtues, we are urged to focus only on their sins.” -Philip A Wallach

Many things that actually have such a positive and virtuous impact, are given bad connotations today. Words or principles we know and love are changed in such a way that takes much of the value from them. We are required in school to study history, and most of the time the reason we are given for having to do so is so we can avoid the mistakes the people before us had made. While this is true, why is it that we only focus on the bad? While we revere George Washington, James Madison, and the other founding fathers as heroes, we are not told to look at their examples of virtue and to try to become like them. Instead we are told “If only there were people like that today” or people expose their weaknesses to try to take away from all the things that were good about them. Until recently, in my history classes I was never told to “learn from this experience” unless we were discussing a mistake someone or some group of people had made. We live in a world full of negativity, and because of that it is even more crucial to focus on the positive aspects of history and try to be as they were. Not just to say “I wish there were people like that today” but to become modern day James Madisons or Patrick Henrys. Those kinds of people didn’t become who they were by sitting and hoping for the best. They worked hard to educate themselves and gain knowledge. Those kinds of people didn’t just live 250 years ago, they live now. You can become that type of person. Learn from the mistakes that were made, but also follow the examples of those that have done good. Then we can all work together to emulate the virtue our ancestors once had.

Yours truly,


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