Revisit history, not revise it | Inquirer Opinion

Revisit history, not revise it

01:51 AM October 22, 2021

I always wondered what deeper reason there was for teaching history, why all educational institutions made it a venerable subject. It seemed like sheer memorization to me when I was in high school. While it did mention many interesting things, I did not see depth in history in my early years with it.

Well, that was more than fifty years ago. I know much better now or was forced by life to know its fundamental value. The first history I remember was not that relevant to me because it dealt more with what was foreign to Filipinos. When it came to the history of the Philippines, it was taught badly to me, I believe. Memorizing names, dates, and places is a shallow practice until the teacher weaves a story that becomes relevant in the life of a teenager and stays relevant all throughout his life.


Nobody prefaced the subject of history as how it is defined today by just going to Google. My teachers never explained that history would help me, and society in general, understand the complexities of societal relationships and the dilemmas they generate. The discoveries I made as simply consequential to my life journey have been both thrilling and frustrating. The frustrations come from the destructive patterns that become vicious cycles from generation to generation, the unlearned lessons that beg to be understood.

History is necessarily involved with the past and its wealth of experience, many sad and bloody, but with highlights, too, in breakthrough findings and lessons. These consequently enabled mankind to move from one level of knowledge and development to the next. The reality that our present and future are grounded on our past escapes our awareness most of the time. We often move as though time has just begun for us. No wonder why much of our understanding stays shallow. And why vicious cycles are not broken despite the pain they inflict on us.


The past cannot be changed. Yes, we can change the way we understand the realities of the past, but even that can change only in depth and substance. If a fire had happened in one particular place at one particular time, that cannot change. We can only see a bigger context to the fire, and maybe learn more lessons about avoiding or putting out fires when we review what happened in the past. But we cannot say that there was no such fire.

In other words, revisiting the past can benefit the breadth and depth of our understanding. Revisiting the past to dig for possible solutions to problems that defy solutions over long periods of time is one important reason for learning and appreciating history. Mere memorization only perpetuates ignorance beyond non-essential details. If our past is not understood as the preparation for the present, we are bound by the momentum of habit to repeat mistakes, no matter how we had suffered from them before.

History forms our identity. At any one time, for all of us who are alive today, it is the past that has brought us here. It is our history that has defined us until we use the present moment to alter or improve the running total of our lives. That is why we revisit the past – to build on its lessons and to use it as our platform to move forward. That is why revising the past is to deliberately pervert reality for a false notion, to confuse us in the present moment when our foundation cracks and crumbles in our mind.

Revisionism is tinkering with the mind. It is only in the mind that we can change the factuality of the past. We can delude ourselves, or others will try to delude us, into thinking that the fire did not happen in that palace on that date. Altering reality makes us confront the present and the future with false assumptions.

Necessarily, false assumptions will bring the deepest and most painful of present and future experiences. Because being human is not only about the mind. Reality is quite physical, too. We cannot hope to arrive at a place that had burned down a long time ago because we believed the lie that there was never any fire.

Revising history is to create and then perpetuate a lie. It is deleting the basis of our understanding and the truth of our identity. Life is a continuing thread. That is how we understand our childhood, boyhood, and adulthood to where each of us is today. When we believe a lie about the past, and especially a lie about an important person or incident, we have unwittingly altered what we know and see from the real to imaginary. It is not hard to imagine how devastating that can be to our individual and collective lives.

Let people lie about the future. That is how promises are made and then broken. They always are when promises are founded on lies, or wrong assumptions. They can never come true because there was no basis for them, or only a misunderstood basis for them. How can a politician promise something that he or she does not know how to do in the first place? How can someone care in the future when he or she never cared in the past? How can a person be honest in the future when he or she justifies thievery in the past and the present?

Let us honor the past. Our parents, grandparents, and ancestors are there, including and all the good and bad they did in their lives. We sift and filter the bad, realize the consequences to us, our children, and grandchildren, then study and resolve how not to continue it in our lives. We highlight the good and noble of their lives and use them as working models for us and our future.
The past is meant to teach and transform us. If we allow history to be revised, reality will rise from the grave to haunt us.

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TAGS: Glimpses, History, Jose Ma. Montelibano, Revising history
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