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History – A stepping-stone to change

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Using what is learned from history as a catalyst for change might save our lives and preserve and develop what we have and know for the education of subsequent generations, observes Rakyat Jelata.

We have much to learn from history.
We have much to learn from history.

Until our recent realisation that the subject of History was being used as a political tool by the present government, no one really took much notice of it.

Some loved it, some hated it for the hard work involved in having to memorise names, places, dates or significant events. It was mentally classified as a subject learned by rote, just to get through an exam or increase the exam aggregate as an option offered to secondary school Arts stream students.

But events involving knowledge of history, the perspective in which it is presented and the way in which this knowledge is used have woken many of us up to the significance of this allegedly boring subject. The link between history and our national heritage is also starting to become clearer. The gaps in our country’s history and the losses of our heritage sustained through ignorance are emerging.

Now, it is something we cannot ignore, as Malaysians. Every nation has its history – a chronicle of events, people, lifestyles, technologies and social, economic and political change. Everything has its history from the invention of simple tools for survival and the generation of energy to the construction of large infrastructure like roads and railways that we use for transportation, not forgetting the invention of IT.

Therefore, History is a record of change, the progression or deterioration of society and culture. Despite the pitfalls that we are aware of (i.e. biases and distortions used to promote particular political ideologies or objectives, by various political factions to justify certain politically unacceptable propositions and actions), history as a true discipline should maintain an impeccable objectivity and truth in its presentation and expression of views by ethical historians.

It is often said that, people (leaders) fail to learn from history or that history repeats itself. There are also those who look back into history and attempt to re-enact long forgotten golden ages in the past. These past glories may be significant and should be studied to understand the factors that brought them about. What was so right then that it brought about peace, harmony, prosperity and power to particular societies or groups of people? Equally important, is the fact that these did not last forever. Why? What weaknesses were inherent and why did these go unnoticed until it was too late? Empires rose and fell; everything has its peaks and troughs and some have been lost forever.

If we decide to take these idioms seriously, perhaps we could change for the better. There is much to learn from history. We would understand better why we live in the circumstances we live in today, perhaps devise new solutions to age old problems and learn not to repeat history by making the very same mistakes made for hundreds or thousands of years. This may sound rather idealistic but what have we got to lose by trying, when we have lost so much by not making any attempt to change? Hopefully, it is not yet too late.

History is a dynamic subject, and unless we realise this and understand that this dynamism comes from us in our everyday interactions and reactions to the current events in our lives and towards the prevailing forces and powers ruling us, life remains meaningless. It is, the ordinary populace as well as the powers-that-be, in concert with the global environment, that makes history.

We hope we will not see the end of history too soon with the destruction of this planet, that generations to come will still have somewhere to prosper and live peacefully and continue to keep the chronicles of their origins for their descendants.

Using what is learned from history as a catalyst for change might still save our lives and preserve and develop what we have and know for the education of subsequent generations. The importance of recognising the value of our history and using this knowledge to save our nation and the world from self-destruction, making this planet a safer and better place to live in, cannot be under-estimated or devalued.

Rakyat Jelata is the pseudonym of an occasional contributor to TA Online.

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