Richard G. Petty, MD

Historical Amnesia

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
–George Santayana (Spanish-born American Philosopher, Humanist and Poet, 1863-1952)

For a long time now I have been convinced that one of the many reasons for the social dislocation in much of the developed world is that we have lost our memory. If we do not remember who we are, what we are, where we came from or where we are going, we are doomed to a life of perplexity and confusion. Have you ever felt that there is something about you, some skill, some knowledge, some hidden fact that is there just beyond the horizon, but that you cannot quite grasp? That feeling can be very disorientating and anxiety provoking.

We need to remember our history, and the insights of the geniuses who came before us will help us to understand and to frame the chaos of our lives.

I was thrilled to read a piece by Richard Stengel, the new Managing Editor of Time magazine, in which he laments the epidemic of historical illiteracy that threatens every aspect of our lives. As he points out, being an American is not based upon ancestry or geography, but an acceptance of the ideas of who we are. A few years ago, a survey of Americans aged 18-49 found that only 10% could name the president who ordered the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan. At the time of the study, I was having lunch with a group of faculty at a major Ivy League university, and one of the assembled company  – a very good clinician and researcher – responded to the results by saying, “Who cares who did?” We all need to care for these major events provide a context and a framework for us to understand our place in the world, and who we are as a people and as a nation. As Thomas Jefferson, our 3rd president said: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” Historical illiteracy is a threat to democracy and may lead us to repeat mistakes.

I have spent years working on a series of antidotes to this historical amnesia. As one part of this effort, I have developed a database of quotations. Not cute sayings, but insights, comments and revelations that mean something and can transform our lives. As I said in the introduction to my book Words of Power:
“This book has been created over thousands of years and by thousands of minds. You will find here the fruits of many lifetimes of contemplation and study. From the marble halls of ancient Greece, to the steamy ashrams of India; from the sacred groves of the American Natives, and from the medicine huts of Africa right up to the startling insights of mystics and scientists walking amongst us today.”

Knowing what someone said is valuable, but only half of the equation. We are evolving as a species. If you met a persons from a thousand years ago, they might appear quite dull: our thoughts, beliefs and perceptions are also the fruits of the times and places where we live. It is good to know who said something, and essential to know when and where it was said. As in any conversation, the words are only a small part of a communication: context is key.

For many years now, I have strongly suggested that people interested in personal development should spend just a few minutes a day with a classic maxim or quotation.

If you are interested in quotations, I have well over 27,000 in my database, and I would be very happy to post some of them.

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About Richard G. Petty, MD
Dr. Richard G. Petty, MD is a world-renowned authority on the brain, and his revolutionary work on human energy systems has been acclaimed around the globe. He is also an accredited specialist in internal and metabolic medicine, endocrinology, psychiatry, acupuncture and homeopathy. He has been an innovator and leader of the human potential movement for over thirty years and is also an active researcher, teacher, writer, professional speaker and broadcaster. He is the author of five books, including the groundbreaking and best selling CD series Healing, Meaning and Purpose. He has taught in over 45 countries and 48 states in the last ten years, but spends as much time as possible on his horse farm in Georgia.

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