History Has a Way of Repeating Itself

By | September 27, 2019

[September 27, 2019]  Someone once said of humankind that there are very few things that are new and original.  Fortunately, humans have not changed that much in the past several thousand years; having the same desires and needs.  But we also keep repeating our mistakes.  History does have a way of repeating itself in our behavior and in our failure to act.

The study of military history is required at all great institutions of higher military learning because it shows us how great and terrible things were done and why.  We can learn from them; those who came before us.  That is why so many military history books are written, refined, studied, and rewritten.  We can’t seem to sort out what keeps us from duplicating past errors.

“If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience.” – George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright, critic, and political activist

Playwright G. Bernard Shaw observed correctly that there repetitiveness in human affairs but also that we might be hesitant to learn from it.  This is an everyday experience.  My friend’s daughter, who is about to have her first baby, refuses to talk with her mother because “there are new and better ways of delivering babies today.”  The inference is that the today’s baby-delivery methods are not just physiologically better but also so significantly superior so much so that there is no need to discuss it.

We are often myopic in our view of the world.  The hubris of the modern citizen may build up our confidence but it can be our downfall as well.  To the ancient Greeks, hubris referred to extreme pride, especially pride and ambition so great that they offend the gods and lead to one’s downfall.  This character flaw can be found in classical Greek tragedies, including Oedipus and Achilles.  The familiar old saying “Pride goeth before the fall” is basically talking about hubris.

This is why it is of great importance to study history from the perspective of learning about how others have succeeded or failed, what the circumstances were at that time in the past, their thinking, and any event or issue that may have affected a behavior.  Obviously, we cannot put ourselves totally in the position of those from the past.  But we can certainly infer a great deal.  Lessons that we derive from the past are worthy but we should also know that they are also defective and therefore we must exercise caution.

“Those who do not learn history are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana, philosopher, essayist, and novelist

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

20 thoughts on “History Has a Way of Repeating Itself

  1. Dennis Mathes

    Excellent article and a lesson that bears repeating so that we may never forget. Today, there are very few solutions to old problems that cannot be applied to new problems. This means that we can learn from those who came before us. Failure to do so means that we are not very smart.

  2. Darwin Lippe

    Thanks for another great article, Gen. Satterfield. I’ll be sharing this one with my co-workers on Monday morning.

    1. Karl J.

      I think that is a good idea. Since I’m new to this website, I like reading the comments section. Have a great weekend.

  3. Willie Shrumburger

    Quotable quote “The hubris of the modern citizen may build up our confidence but it can be our downfall as well. ” The intense focus of our school teachers to build the confidence in their students is misplaced. They should be building up their skills and moral character.

  4. Bryan Lee

    Some of the best lessons in life are those that are learned from others. That way you don’t suffer the pain and agony that are associated with them. I always learned things the hard way but that was, frankly, pretty stupid of me.

    1. Tomas Clooney

      Spot-on comment and one that is pretty obvious to those of us who study history and leadership. That is exactly the way to better yourself in life. Just read the ‘ancients’ of long ago. Or read the Bible.

  5. Tracey Brockman

    It can be an ugly world out there, depending on where and when you live. Best to learn those valuable, often hard-won lessons that people elsewhere have learned. Failure to do so means the past has been wasted on us and how unfortunate.

  6. Big Al

    Great article. Thanks for reinforcing the idea that we can really learn from history, IF we study it correctly and with an idea we can apply the lessons of the past.

  7. Darryl Sitterly

    This is one lesson that not many people will agree although I see the idea expressed often. Most of us are taught to believe we are creative and invent new things all the time. But we are just ‘suppressed’ by ‘society.’ What a nutty idea. We all have free will. We just need to use it.

  8. Greg Heyman

    The study of history in our school system has always had a rough and tumble time. Mainly because many of the history teachers/professors are BORING. They are poor at presenting the material in a way that holds our attention while showing the real MEANING of it and what we can learn.

    1. Harry Donner

      Yes, I always liked to read about the “old days” when I was a kid. I read all sorts of books about the US Civil War, etc. In High School, however, I had very bad history teachers. That was the end of my history study.

    2. Dale Paul Fox

      Too bad we cannot present the material in a way that most young folks can understand and appreciate.

      1. Eric Coda

        Yep, I was bored out of my mind in school and not just with history. There was simply no passion in what was presented. The teachers were just biding their time until retirement and the administration didn’t care.

      2. Mr. T.J. Asper

        I’ve certainly tried to clean up the mess other teachers have laid out before us. I teach history in High School and my classrooms are always full, the students bright eyed, and they are interested in what I present. I do it differently because I focus on what and how it applies to their everyday lives. Amazing how quickly this draws in even the most recalcitrant student.

        1. JT Patterson

          Yes, thanks Mr. Asper. We all are wondering what really happened to the great teachers. Did they just retire and get replaced with new PC-teachers?

    1. Wilson Cox

      I was thinking the same. Thank you Scotty. It is always good to hear from you on Gen. Satterfield’s blog.

    2. Jerome Smith

      Hi Scotty. All is well here with me. I’m happy that you are back. Been missing your input and glad also to see you have the first post of Gen. Satterfield’s blog posting. 😊😊😊

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