To determine where we are going we need to know where we have been. Trying to craft solutions without perspective will not give us the appreciation of the challenges ahead. We have no chart for this course. History can give us a rudder.

These are challenging times with multiple issues, from health care to the economy. What was normal yesterday may not be normal tomorrow. Understanding the paths we have taken can give us insight to changes we face. Our history counts.

Sacrifices have been great, challenges have been overcome and surprisingly many, over time, are similar. Taking stock of our journey helps with truer expectations for the future.

We lived “large” for a long time. Consumed by easy prosperity, we pushed aside tough decisions. We lost sight of the strengths forged by challenges that often outweighed achievements.

So it is today. By being aware of our history we can better understand and prepare for the dynamics of changes that will be difficult. We can prepare the course we have to set. Change, like death and taxes, is certain. However, in this global age of high tech communication our world is considerably smaller, and change comes much more rapidly than in generations before. Our roots can ground us and experience will help us.

Reflecting on the trials of my Native American ancestors, their enduring values and sustaining heritage was a foundation through unspeakably difficult change.

One poignant story is timeless. The old chief sat on a hill overlooking the endless horizon with his grandson. He had seen much and in his eyes was the depth of triumph and tragedy. The old grandfather was lost in a faraway look and focused on a lone wagon making its way across the prairie. The grandson asked what the old chief was thinking. He replied with wisdom of years that great change was coming. It was more important than ever that the young man keep old values alive. The stories of times past would give him strength in the future.

“How do you know of this change?” the grandson asked.

“Because,” the old man said, “the buffalo are few and I have seen wagons before, but this time there will be thousands more to come after this one. The old ways will be but history.”

If we are to recognize the changes on the horizon we need the wisdom and values that have anchored us in the past. History repeats itself. Knowing this does not make challenges easier, but it helps us understand, adapt, accept and meet them.

A renewed emphasis on our history can help our next generation stay the course. Living in the now is not nearly enough. History is revealing in putting all major events of the past and today in the perspective of the trial and error of the process of life.

Most major achievements came with failings, perseverance and courage. Usually, we took one step back for every two steps forward. In the bigger context of our spiritual being, Ecclesiastes speaks to us of our journey. There is a time for all things under the sun. Verse 1.9 says, “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done; and there is no new thing under the sun.”

Many students fail to see history as exciting or important. Yet it is the story of people, not events. It can be beneficial to teach business history as well in these economic times. The knowledge of why can be answered by when and how events evolved before.

In the early part of the 20th century, losses in investments were huge because of unregulated schemes. Losses were so huge in 1907 states enacted more strict financial laws.

Almost a century later in 2000, Congress exempted the state laws protecting against these investments. This unwittingly made way for deregulation of credit default swaps, and that led to the near financial collapse of 2008 — a repeat of a century before.

Would it have made a difference if business leaders had a historical awareness? Let’s agree it could not have been worse.

It is important to learn from the past. It offers guidance to decisions now. We cannot afford to live on the short term knowledge of this day. To effectively debate and decide how to meet a changing social, political, economic and global landscape we must have a foundation in the past.

Promote the study of history at all levels. Our heritage is that important. Prior events are a guide to tackling future challenges. The way forward can be made easier by understanding the roads we have taken and looking back to learn from where we have been. Look back to know the right path ahead.



PHIL G. BUSEY SR., an Edmond resident, is chairman and CEO of The Busey Group of Companies.

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