Mr. D, as we called him, was one of my favorite teachers in high school. Tall and thin, with an unforgettable face, Mr. D. couldn’t hide a twinkle in his eyes, as if he always knew something we didn’t. Imported mustache wax ensured the perfect handlebar mustache that framed a wiry smile every student knew well. You either feared him or you loved him, but either way you respected him, and when he talked, you listened.
Mr. D taught Social Sciences – mainly History, Humanities & Comparative Religions. I learned a lot from Mr. D., once I stopped being intimidated, including how to honor commitments and conquer a lengthy research paper.
“The only thing we’ve learned from history, is that we don’t learn from history”, he said, in a passing comment. I think teachers already know that their comments are never only in passing. I immediately decided that I didn’t want those words to ring true for me. That quote truly impacts my life.
I see how, in thousands of years of existence, humanity continues the same patterns with different colors. I consistently ask, “what can I do to break this cycle, so that I’m not repeating the same issues for another ten years?”
War and Violence have played a role in humanity almost since our inception. Once violence starts, it gathers speed and ground like a black snowball rolling down Mount Kilimanjaro. The only way to stop it from careening off of a cliff is to break it up or create a barrier. Unfortunately, “the only thing we’ve learned from history is that we don’t learn from history”. We throw focused snowballs to break up the giant one only to have the pieces begin rolling on a new course.
Violence begets violence.
If we want to break the cycle of violence, we have to be the ones to break it. And we must do so in a way that doesn’t lead to more violence.
In this week following the celebration of the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., I think we can honor his life by thinking about the violence we witness in our lives and how we can creatively dissolve a rolling snowball. He gave voice to breaking cycles of violence, and we celebrate his courage.
How can we learn from our history?