History Ain’t Boring WHAT THE PAST TEACHES US ABOUT THE PRESENT
rowing up, I didn’t care much about history. I’m sure a lot of kids feel the same way. I used to think, “What could I possibly
cases and laws that were established many years ago. Whenever you hear a legal analyst on TV talking about “historical precedence,” they’re referring to the results of similar cases in the past. But this hard-and-fast information is far from the only way my passion for history has helped me become a better lawyer. History gives us the benefit of hindsight. We can look at patterns from previous events and apply them to our current situation. Historical scenarios are often the most potent metaphors for what we’re dealing with in the present moment. Here’s just one example. From time to time when I’m working with a family court client, I warn them about the dangers of creating a Treaty of Versailles. After World War I, the victors imposed strict sanctions on Germany that many historians believe were a direct cause of the rise of Hitler. Obviously, I don’t think a family court case is going to bring about anything close to the terrors of Nazism, but there is a parallel to be drawn. I want my clients to get the best possible outcome during a divorce. That said, if the terms are so oppressive that the other party won’t be able to comply, you’ll just end up back in court a few months down the road. This is what I mean when I say you don’t want a Treaty of Versailles. Little analogues like these emerge all the time at work and at home. Given that Presidents Day is in February, I thought it only fitting to pay a little tribute to the lessons we can learn from previous generations. And if one of those lessons is that Millard Fillmore becomes your favorite president, well, all the more power to you.
learn from studying events that happened tens, if not hundreds, of years before I was born?” I was wrong. Beginning in college and continuing through today, I’ve discovered a passion for American history in particular. Through this interest, I’ve learned many concepts that are applicable to my life and work. My first introduction to history was through reading the biographies of U.S. presidents. Without a doubt, my favorite president is Millard Fillmore. I think most of you reading this will agree that our 13th president is unrivaled in terms of impact and fame. Okay, you got me. I’m only joking. I’ve always found Lyndon Johnson and Abraham Lincoln to be the most fascinating men to sit in the Oval Office. They were endlessly complicated figures, guiding our nation through transformative times. The more I read about them, the more questions I have. Part of the joy of looking into the past is that there’s always something new to learn, even if you’re on your 100th biography of Honest Abe. From there, my passion for history blossomed into something a little more all-encompassing. As you can probably imagine, law school requires students to study
History cannot give us a program for the future, but it can give us a fuller understanding of ourselves, and of our common humanity, so that we can better face the future. –Robert Penn Warren
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