Those who don’t learn from history are doomed….” to all sorts of follies.
Just this past week Signal Columnist Pastor Hegg commented that people, especially young people, seemingly have little time today for history. That we live in the moment, live in the glass thingie we constantly stare at in our hands, and that studying history books is… boring.
Hegg and I often disagree on his judgements upon society and declarations of national doom, save we return to (sometimes archaic and unjust) biblical ways. But sometimes we agree, and this time we do.
Hegg does pretty much hit the nail on the head as to the importance of knowing, understanding, and interpreting history. History is the context by which we gain wisdom on human behavior. Without it, we’re doomed to relearn time and time again. Yes, someday they’ll be “an app for that,” but for now, the intuition and wisdom that comes from analysis of history provides the best reflections of ourselves over time. And boy have we changed.
Only 170 years ago, half the country thought it dandy to grab humans out of Africa to enslave them for personal profit here. Only 60 years ago we thought it important enough to again attempt to right the lingering remains of those wrongs. Even today we still struggle with straggling racial issues related to vast numbers of humans abusing each other.
And consider our behaviors in past wars, or in medieval Europe. History gives us context of how very hard we have collectively fought over centuries to get to improved lives of where we are today.
One of our greatest historic achievements has been the gradual development of human compassion towards one another. Of learning to see beyond our immediate types, beyond our immediate personal self-interests. Of trying to first understand the other guy, the other people, the other nation – before condemning or lashing out. The process has in no way been perfect, but the trend line remains encouraging.
And so, sometimes we learn we were better and we need to correct back. Sometimes we learn we were worse, and can feel warm and fuzzy about our progress to date.
The SCV Signal, in its outstanding wisdom, runs “This week in SCV History” on the inside cover of the newspaper, posting grainy reproductions of the original Newhall Signal newspaper from ages ago.
Squint your eyes and read those articles therein. It’s “who we were before we were the crowded mega-suburb we are now.” It’s us, but in slower times. More wild west times. Maybe more honest times with less window dressing and spin. Sometimes shocking. Sometimes enlightening.
“Stranded Mother Finds Safe Haven”:
Last Tuesday the Signal republished the May 1 cover sheet all the way back from 1946. Post war. Hard times for many as all of society was re-adjusting to peacetime and a peacetime economy. And one article told the story of dignity restored out of destitution.
Here’s the clip:
“The technical charge of vagrancy, placed against Mrs. Gertrude Y. Lehman, stranded mother, who was rescued from her camp under a bridge near Saugus, was the means of a new start in life for her and her four young children this week.
For the story of the family’s pitiable plight, published in the newspapers, brought numerous offers of help.
And when she appeared before Judge Arthur C. Miller, he not only worked out a solution of her troubles, but expunged all record of the case from the official records so that no word of Mrs. Lehman’s harrowing experience will ever stand against her…”
From 72 years ago we learned “who we were”:
That folks were already homeless and “camping” under various bridges in the washes surrounding our little town,
We cared back then enough to actually intervene and RESCUE (emphasis intentional) a mother and children in distress, caught homeless,
As today, upon hearing of such a trying story, many in the community reached out to help. Mrs. Lehman was not forcibly “cleared out of her camp” with nowhere to go, with things going from bad to worse. Rather, her condition was publically viewed as “pitiable” – and we seemed to have more personal human compassion for her homelessness.
And that the judge actually “worked out a solution to her troubles” and went further – expunging the whole case so Mrs. Lehman would be able to return to a productive place in society without the damning legal baggage that haunts our output of our judicial system today.
“Who we were then” – at least in this case, seemed a lot more personal, more willing to leave comfort zones to personally aid the “least among us.” We were very good, Good Samaritans.
Certainly in L.A., we’re all now aware of the homelessness crisis that’s swamped us. No one judge, no one group of concerned citizens can personally intercede in the 60,000 homeless cases surrounding us today. In the SCV, it’s no longer Mrs. Lehman and four kids in the wash, but an estimated 600 – 800 souls “living” out there.
History, recorded right here in the Signal, shows us who we’ve been – and who we can and should remain – or again become. The folks in the Signal story back then were social activists – willing to act and step up to help those in need.
Today, we’ve voted with our tax dollars to help, and we’re acting with our donations, time, and contributions to various shelters. Now, we’ve got to insist our public servants emulate this good judge Arthur C. Miller and really get the job done with all the tax dollars we’ve pledged to the cause. Billions in taxes, and we need something very substantial to show for it.
And, please don’t forget, there’s always space for direct human kindness and involvement.
Can you imagine what folks will think in 72 years should they read in their 2090 Signals that, after all the taxes paid and all the public outcry – that you and I continued tolerating 800 souls to suffer depraved existences in our riverbeds while the other 250,000 of us Santa Claritans thrived in warm, cozy spaces?
Who and what will they think we were?
We are, after all, making our own local history right now.
Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. His column, “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.