From Where I Sit: Learning the 'lesser' lessons of historyBy: By Tom Rupp, Special to the Telegraph
Will and Ariel Durant co-authored an 11-volume, 10,000 page behemoth titled “The Story of Civilization.” It traces Western history and thereby offers a more recent angle on the bigger picture of history. They did not live to finish it, even though they devoted more than 40 years to the project. They did not mean it to be an exhaustive treatment of the subject. For many people, exhaustive is exhausting.
Capturing history on paper (or digitally nowadays) is an imperfect endeavor. It is impossible to grab every nuance, every incident. Gaps will inevitably appear. Questions will remain unanswered. Total objectivity is an illusion.
Just as they did not live to finish writing it, I will not live to finish reading it. This is because I will not live to begin reading it. Why begin an attempt you know you have no intention of completing?
However, I did the next best thing. I went to our wonderful local library and checked out their companion volume titled “The Lessons of History.” Published in 1968, the book is a 100-page distillation of the broad lessons the Durants learned in devoting their lives to the big picture of modern history.
They state, “Our knowledge of any past event is always incomplete, probably inaccurate, beclouded by ambivalent evidence and biased historians, and perhaps distorted by our own patriotic or religious partisanship.” Exactly. Then they go on, “History smiles at all attempts to force its flow into rhetorical patterns or logical grooves, it plays havoc with our generalizations.”
There are many more succinct observations such as these. I was somewhat amused and yet agreed with their conclusion that we must “bear reality patiently and respect one another’s delusions.”
Wisdom comes in stepping back and trying to get the big picture in life. For instance, try viewing life in 500 or 1,000 year increments. Doing this puts many of our petty problems and squabbles in perspective and lends us more of a nonjudgmental patience concerning the heated events of any one day.
Anyway, I have another big reading project on my plate. In preparation for the winter release of Les Miserables at the theater, I have begun reading the 1,400 page unabridged version of Hugo’s story. Coupled with my attempt this year to read the Bible through again, those are my only two attainable major projects.
And that’s OK, if you pull back and see the big picture.
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