Thursday, May 11, 2006

Knowledge and Context

On one hand, we are a society that whines and cries about the most ridiculous and inane, while ignoring completely the plight of those subjected to brutality and horror on a scale we can't begin to fathom.
Ben Stein recently wrote in a column about a discussion he had with a psychologist about what he (the shrink) would say to college graduates about how to succeed in life. Here are his first three:
First, he said, materialism has become more powerful than it has ever been in his life. The worship of money and the things money can buy is more acute, more unchallenged, than it ever has been. This is a trap, because almost no one can ever have enough. There will always be someone with more. And most of all, the occupations that lead to serious wealth are not well suited to most temperaments. Trying to jam yourself into that round hole will do you more harm than good if you are square dowel.

Second, almost no one today knows anything about history. No one has context. But life without historical context is shallow and unsatisfactory. If you don't know how mankind suffered in World War II, if you don't know how your fellow Jews or Slavs suffered in the Holocaust, if you do not know what Communism did to fifty million good people, you cannot possibly know how blessed your life in the United States of America is in 2006. If you do not know how much your grandparents had to work to get you where you are, you cannot know how precious that car your parents gave you is, or how lucky it is that you can study without having to work at a part-time job. If you do not know how your fellow African Americans were treated in rural 1920s Mississippi, you cannot know how lucky you are to live in an America that has the opportunities this nation now affords men and women of every race.

Knowledge of history is context and context is everything.

Third, treating people with kindness and respect is almost an antiquity. You hardly ever encounter it any longer. But it yields great results in terms of what it does for you, and it is not a sign of weakness to be kind. It is a sign of strength. Plus, it is its own reward.
{Emphasis mine.}
The historical context is one that is increasingly important to me as I grow older. Because I have a college degree in History, and because I have witnessed in my own short lifetime the increasing ignorance and even disdain for it, often by those "teachers" charged with molding our own children. From Christians ignoring completely the writings of the early Church Fathers, to citizens and their politicians discounting their own pasts, we all lose our context and hence the lessons to be learned from those who came before us.
Stein closes his article by recounting an encounter he had after going over this list with his friend:
I walked out to my car and passed by a statuesque, attractive, not young woman who had been heavily worked on, plastic surgery wise. She told me she had written a book. She gave me a postcard ad for it. The ad said (and I am not making this or any other part of this story up), "My parents went through the Holocaust and all I got was this lousy T-shirt." As far as I can tell, the book is about how badly the Holocaust affected her exercise, sex, and eating habits. She drove off in an eighty thousand dollar car.

How often, I wonder, does she get on her knees to thank the GI infantrymen of the Huertgen Forest or Bastogne? I think I know.
Which brings me to something I would have added to this list on how to succeed: Get on your knees often. Be thankful. Be prayerful. Be grateful that you live in a country that affords you opportunity if you only apply yourself. Be thankful your children are not stolen from you in the night.
Be thankful you can make an ass of yourself by entertaining the thought of initiating the most frivolous of lawsuits. And then have the intelligence to not engage in them.


Post a Comment

<< Home