Revisit history, not revise it

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

| Photo by Gary Lee Todd, Ph.D. via Flickr/Commons CCO 1.0

It seemed like sheer memorization to me when I was in high school. While it did mention many exciting things, I did not see depth in history in my early years with it. I always wondered what deeper reason was for teaching history and why all educational institutions made it venerable.

Well, that was more than fifty years ago. I know much better now, or life has forced me to understand its fundamental value. The first history I remember was not that relevant to me because it dealt more with what was foreign to Filipinos. When it came to the history of the Philippines, it was poorly taught to me, I believe. Memorizing names, dates, and places is a shallow practice until the teacher weaves a story that becomes relevant in a teenager’s life and stays relevant throughout his life.

Nobody prefaced the subject of history as to how it is defined today by just going to Google. My teachers never explained that history would help me and society understand the complexities of societal relationships and the dilemmas they generate. The discoveries I made as simply consequential to my life journey have been both thrilling and frustrating. The frustrations come from the destructive patterns that become vicious cycles from generation to generation, the unlearned lessons that beg to be understood.

“We often move as though time has just begun for us. No wonder why much of our understanding stays shallow. And why vicious cycles do not break despite the pain they inflict on us.”

History is necessarily involved with the past. Its wealth of experience — many sad and bloody — but with highlights, too, in breakthrough findings and lessons. These consequently enabled mankind to move from one level of knowledge and development to the next. The reality that our present and future, grounded on our past, escapes our awareness most of the time. We often move as though time has just begun for us. No wonder why much of our understanding stays shallow. And why vicious cycles do not break despite the pain they inflict on us.

We cannot change the past. Yes, we can change the way we understand the realities of the past, but even that can change only in-depth and substance. If a fire had happened in one particular place at a specific time, that could not change. But we cannot say that there was no such fire. We can only see a bigger context to the fire and maybe learn more lessons about avoiding or putting out fires when we review what happened in the past.

Revisiting the past to find possible solutions to problems that defy solutions over long periods is a critical reason for learning and appreciating history. Mere memorization only perpetuates ignorance beyond non-essential details. If our past is not understood, as preparation for the present, we are bound to repeat mistakes by the momentum of habit. No matter how we had suffered from them before. In other words, revisiting the past can benefit the breadth and depth of our understanding.

“Revisionism is tinkering with the mind. It is only in the mind that we can change the factuality of the past. We can delude ourselves, or others will deceive us, thinking that the fire did not happen in that palace on that date.”

History forms our identity. At any one time, for all of us who are alive today, the past has brought us here. Our history has defined us until we use the present moment to alter or improve the running total of our lives. That is why we revisit the past: build on its lessons, and use it as our platform to move forward. That is why revising history deliberately perverts reality for a false notion. It is to confuse us in the present moment when our foundation cracks and crumbles in our minds.

Revisionism is tinkering with the mind. It is only in the mind that we can change the factuality of the past. We can delude ourselves, or others will deceive us, thinking that the fire did not happen in that palace on that date. Altering reality makes us confront the present and the future with false assumptions.

Necessarily, false assumptions will bring the deepest and most painful of present and future experiences. Because being human is not only about the mind. Reality is quite physical, too. We cannot hope to arrive at a place that had burned down a long time ago because we believed the lie that there was never any fire.

Revising history is to create and then perpetuate a lie. It is deleting the basis of our understanding and the truth of our identity. Life is a continuing thread. That is how we understand our childhood, boyhood, and adulthood to where each of us is today. When we believe a lie about the past — especially about an important person or incident — we have unwittingly altered what we know and see from the real to the imaginary. It is not hard to imagine how devastating that can be to our individual and collective lives.

“The past is meant to teach and transform us. If we allow history to be revised, reality will rise from the grave to haunt us.”

Let people lie about the future. That is how promises are made and then broken. They always are when promises, founded on lies or wrong assumptions. They can never come true because there was no basis for them or only a misunderstood basis. How can a politician promise something that they do not know how to do in the first place? How can someone care in the future when they never cared in the past? When they justify thievery in the past and the present, how can they be honest in the future?

Let us honor the past. Our parents, grandparents, and ancestors are there, including and all the good and bad they did in their lives. We sift and filter the bad, realize the consequences to us, our children, and grandchildren, then study and resolve how not to continue it in our lives. We highlight the suitable and noble of their lives and use them as working models for us and our future.

The past is meant to teach and transform us. If we allow history to be revised, reality will rise from the grave to haunt us.

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