historians study the past
not in order for us to repeat it
but so that we be liberated from it.
history repeats itself
in a cycle of years and eons
& what has been, will happen anew.
we use these lines as we like – as life likes, rather
checking not if they even contradict each other
but when tested – when your beliefs, asked to be given
your faith in the platitudes comes undone, uneven.
I read the quote first in the book Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari. To reiterate, he says, historians study history so that it does not repeat itself. Rather, they study it so that we are liberated from it.
However, aren’t we all always warned about history repeating itself? Do we not constantly strive and struggle to not let our past mistakes, both individually as well as collectively as a species, affect our future the same way? And what if, in the pursuit of having us liberated from our history, our history is liberated from us instead? Why are there contradictory statements, and which one of them do we follow?
This reminds me of something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. Possibly ever since I learnt how to read and write, and only recently tried to verbalise.
When we learn a language, especially in school, we learn about a powerful literary tool. Call them proverbs, sayings, adages, platitudes, quotes – most of us start from learning about the ‘Moral of the Story’ in language or value education classes. From humble ones like ‘Tit for Tat’ and ‘Look before you leap’ we gradually move onto larger, more complex phrases, as if in tune with the tumultuous ride that is growing up. They teach you valuable life lessons packed in bits of carefully chosen words. But the most curious thing about the more extreme ones from them, is that most of them will have a complementary saying that gives quite the opposite idea. Let’s review a few of them:
- Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
Out of sight, out of mind.
- Haste makes waste.
Time waits for no man.
- It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
- Look before you leap.
He who hesitates is lost.
- Great minds think alike.
Fools seldom differ.
- Good things come to those who wait.
Time and tide wait for no man.
- Actions speak louder than words.
The pen is mightier than the sword.
- History repeats itself.
Historians study the past
So, which one is it? Did you agree with one quote per point?
Is it even prudent to have firm loyalty to only one in each pair?
Never do we see these pairs together, other than in articles that want to prove they both contradict. Contradict they do, as well as exist in a majority of people who are clinically sane. So how does that happen?
Most people at this point would dismiss this point and say, hey, it depends on the situation. But does every situation warrant a single quote to be slapped onto it and moved on? For a person who has enough means to go on, especially with pandemic and current lockdown, isn’t it better they stay inside and be safe than sorry? What about someone who does not, but have an opportunity to make ends meet only if they leave their house for work? What do you think they would prefer to do?
The point I want to put forth is this – there is no truth in these statements. They are simply empty words.
It’s only us humans, who have come up with the phrases, who give them any meaning. Only because another human came up with these aurally pleasing strings of words, and a couple of others on taking a liking to it, decided to help propel them to popularity, are we taught to give them importance. Some people are motivated by these words, some people think they are cliched, while the rest remain unaffected. Some people can live out their entire lives embodying these adages without even realising or verbalising the same. There are too many causes to factor in to calculate their importance anyway. The only truth that lies within them is the truth that we assign. Words, and strings of words, only have importance as long as there is someone who chooses to make sense of them.
So, will you choose for them to have meaning in your life, or will you not?