“Remember the Days of Old, consider the years of many generations: ask your father, and he will show you; your elders, and they will tell you.”
Almost every society that has developed over the past 4,000 years has made an attempt to preserve its history in some form or another. Today we record facts and events in astonishing detail. In times past the Jewish scribes would religiously copy manuscripts letter for letter. The Egyptians constructed large architectural structures in hopes that they would endure. The Irish maintained schools of Bards that would memorize their history. The attempts of these people to preserve and pass down their history, knowledge, and culture to generations of people who had yet to be born was an attempt to preserve and tell an intentional message. It was an attempt to pass on the wisdom and experience of the generations that had gone before them. This one facet makes the study of history a valuable use of your time.
It will provide you the basis for, and a depth of, an understanding in the subjects of economics, education, geography, law, psychology, linguistics, political science and foreign policy among others. It provides the seeds of wisdom that will grow into true wisdom as you study any of the above subjects. This is how history enhances the study of those subjects and thus enhances your own education and life. This is history in general. But what of heritage? What of YOUR heritage? What is it and why is that important?
Heritage is the history, unique knowledge, values and traditions that have developed by a combination of genes and environment over time. Heritage, whether it be national, cultural, or family is an endowment of unique sets of historical knowledge; but foremost, heritage is your history. It is responsible for how we came to be, it is a very large part of who and what we are, and it can determine what we will become. As humans, we are free moral agents; because we can determine our future to great degrees, we may delude ourselves into thinking the past has no impact on us. But choices and past events have very profound and long-lasting impacts on any decision we can possibly make; therefore all decisions or choices made now are done so in the context of the past.
So heritage is a conglomeration of genes, decisions and environmental factors that have personally affected us, and continue to affect us, that we had no active part in. Since it is a part of you that you can not disassociate yourself from, since you can not make a decision outside of its context, it is imperative for you to know about, understand, and embrace your heritage.
A Sense of Identity and a Guide Post
A keen sense of your heritage will help you to understand, in part, just who you are. The yearning by many adolescents to “discover who they are” and their importance or role in this world can be answered in the study of their heritage. Of course adults can also suffer from this crisis in identity and heritage can be just as much of a cure for them.
Albeit true that your heritage does not fully determine WHO you are, it essentially helps to determine your “starting position” in life. It can give you an idea of what you may have the potential to become. Therefore in that way it can help define where you may want to go. In the same vein therefore it can hep you determine what you do with your life, what you may choose as a profession or a hobby. If you have people who are part of your heritage that have done great exploits, you have close examples that you can try to emulate. If you have people who are part of your heritage that are notorious, you have close examples of what you may try to avoid. If your heritage displays a people of certain admirable characteristics you may more easily adopt them; a people of poor character, you have an idea of where you might start to improve your own personal character.
This sense of identity that you gain from the study of your heritage will help to explain to others who you are, but more so it will help to explain who you are — to yourself. This intimate knowledge of self can lead you down the road of your ancestry’s mistakes or to their great exploits.
Value Your Heritage
The value of a heritage comes from its inheritors – from the Living!
Heritage is an inheritance better than money or property. Unlike money or other property, heritage cannot be stolen or taken from you as long as you are alive. It can only be lost or forgotten by a choice that you make. This would be the choice of neglect and disuse. What value is an instruction manual to a complex machine if it is left in packing material and thrown away – none! But when we read that manual, encapsulate that knowledge into our mind, and use it – then there is great value.
We have a world today that has destroyed much of its heritage through war or through neglect. Our mobile society and fast pace world, with the immense prosperity we enjoy, has caused us to forget much of our heritage. We have used our time in meaningless pursuits. We have relegated our family history books, and our nation’s history books, to the corners of our library. We have watered down, or forgotten altogether, our traditions. We have sequestered the older generation to retirement communities and nursing facilities, and as they grow old and die – so does our heritage. Because more often than not, that generation failed to pass it on, while the next fails to retrieve it from them.
Our Gift to Future Generations
If we value our heritage, we will then be able to pass it on to our children with a little bit of ourselves attached to it. What we do now, how we live our lives and the character we build, adds to the heritage we leave to our children. Some of us may not have money or property to give to our children when we die, but we can give a rich heritage to them. We can offer a heritage that will enhance their lives in every good way that we desire for them.