Monday, April 8, 2019

History - Because We're Lost Without It

The following is from a book I'm working on on bipolar recovery. This is a continuation from my previous post, Applying Your Thinking Hacks ...

I’m forever indebted to my fifth grade teacher, Mrs Clancy, who opened my mind to reading and history. Unfortunately, the study of history, along with the arts and humanities, has fallen victim to our misplaced enthusiasm for the STEM curriculum. In our quest to turn our youth into human calculating machines serving the global economy, we are committing no less than cultural genocide upon ourselves. Without history, we’re like a dementia patient staring blankly into an open refrigerator, with no idea how we got there or what we’re going to do next.

With no memory, there is no identity, no sense of “I.” Think about it. With your personal memories, you are a four-year-old kid, you are the rebellious teen, the young adult with dreams, the 40-something, and so on. You are not just the age you are now. You are a composite of all those earlier versions of who got you to where you are now, from birth canal to the refrigerator door. Only this time looking in, you recall that four-year old who has sneaked down to the kitchen to fix himself a bowl of cereal. Just like you’re doing right now. Somehow, that feels reassuring.

Likewise, we’re Socrates and Shakespeare and Eleanor Roosevelt. We were there at the Battle of Hastings. We sat on the steps of the Parthenon, suffered on the Trail of Tears, spewed up phlegm in the hold of a coffin ship, felt the wind in our face at Kittyhawk. 

Or did we? If there is no history, no Mrs Clancy to mentor us, where are our cultural memories going to come from? Where is our identity as a people, where are our reassuring anchors, our informational touchstones?

It is no accident that each book in my Bipolar Expert Series has a strong historical component, and by now I trust you see the wisdom in that approach. By necessity, any enquiry into who we are right now - as individuals and as a people - needs to take the long view. Otherwise, we’re reduced to staring with blank looks into metaphorical refrigerators.

In the first year of my road journey, in 2017, living out of my car, I covered 30 states and 13,000 miles. Heading east into Arizona, I climbed up onto a ledge and held the palm of my hand against ancient Indian petroglyphs. Later, on the other side of the country, I stood on the spot where Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address. Further north, I planted my feet at the Concord Bridge, where a group of stubborn farmers had the guts to stand up to authority. Heading west, my path paralleled that of settlers venturing out of New England for the rich soil of Ohio. From an old fire look-out tower in the middle of New York State, I gazed over rolling countryside where the Five Nations once reigned supreme. 

Further west, my path would cross with Lewis and Clark. On the bluffs overlooking the Missouri, where their Corps of Discovery ventured into the unknown, I unexpectedly came upon a newly erected 60-foot tall stainless steel statue of a Plains Indian woman, striding like a ghost among the trees. Further down the road, I walked in the greasy grass, where the Lakota and Cheyenne faced Custer in what would be their last stand.

In Washington State, I had the honor of observing Dusty, a member of the Jamestown S’klallam Coast Salish, carving a totem pole. Unlike most tribes, the Jamestown S’klallam succeeded in resisting attempts by the white man to herd them onto a distant reservation. The white man retaliated by depriving them of their Indian status. Now, with their Indian status restored and a secure economic foundation, the tribe is reclaiming its history. How important is history? Talk to anyone who has had it taken it from them.

And here we are, in our ignorance and stupidity, doing it to ourselves. 

John McManamy is the author of Living Well with Depression and Bipolar Disorder and is the publisher of the Bipolar Expert Series, available on Amazon.

Follow John on Twitter at @johnmcman and on Facebook.

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