They knew things

Mission Carmel is one of the oldest buildings still standing in California. December 2002

Mission Carmel is one of the oldest buildings still standing in California. December 2002

“We know some things they didn’t know in the past, but they knew things that we’ve forgotten.”Ashleigh Brilliant

Here’s something to ponder: if you were to time-travel and suddenly swap places with a person of your age, gender and ability who lived two or more centuries ago, which of you would have a harder time functioning independently in your new surroundings?  It’s a safe bet that either of you would need a good bit of help from people who might be baffled at your ignorance.

In any case, we have one distinct advantage over our ancestors: we have the option of learning some of the things they knew.  Whether we learn and practice age-old skills on a camping trip, at a living history center or in a classroom, it might be strangely calming to focus our attention on something not requiring electricity, climate-control or a tight schedule.

The California missions are among many places all over the world where bygone ways of life can be studied.  It has become popular to look at the past through a harshly critical lens, but future generations will have ample reason to do the same to us, equipped with the benefit of hindsight.  In our determination to rise above the mistakes and wrong actions of those who lived long ago, let’s not forget that people who lived in past centuries also have positive things to teach us.

If you could spend a day with your great-great-great grandparents, what would you most want to learn from them?

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.


  1. Elena

    A friend of mine, in her socials profile, says that she wants to “preserve the collective memory”. At first I dismissed the idea but I slowly begun to realize that keeping or relearning such knowledge is a wise idea.
    Surely my great-great-great-grandmother were more skilled homemakers than I am, likely, they knew about sewing clothes and about keeping a garden… and make sauerkraut, which is a very common dish in my part of Italy, close to the Austrian border.
    About this last skill, some relatives in their eighties are masters and I am surprised that my parents (only some years younger) were never interested in learning. Uhm, maybe I should try to learn it myself…

    • Elena, I’ve been reading a lot lately (in several books and online sites) about the amazing health benefits of fermented foods, including sauerkraut. Apparently they are loaded with probiotics and contribute greatly to a healthy GI tract, among many other benefits. I’ve never liked most fermented foods but I do love a good dill pickle, which is about as close as I get. But I think sauerkraut is becoming popular again due to all the publicity it has gotten regarding health benefits. Making it might be a good thing to take up as a hobby! Quite aside from the obvious practical reasons, I think the collective memory is very important on many levels…physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. Whether we know it or not, we are greatly influenced by the past. For better and worse, I believe it’s a factor in so many aspects of our lives…in our DNA, and our neurological wiring, and in many of our unthinking habits, caught more than taught, from our parents and extended family. And the same is true on a macro level, with society at large. We have so much to learn from both the mistakes and the successes of our ancestors!

  2. Good morning, Julia! This is a nice twist to the “Back to the Future” scenario, where we consider what we would tell our ancestors. The catch to that scenario is that by changing the past, you wouldn’t exist and consequently couldn’t go back to advise the ancestors.
    Learning FROM them is a whole different, and better, story!
    I’d definitely be interested in organic gardening practices.

    • Ah, but Michael Crichton’s characters in Timeline might beg to differ on that point…read it and see the explanation for why. Or just read this shorter synopsis of a similar objection to that seemingly logical conclusion. Notwithstanding, I don’t see where you would necessarily prevent your own birth even if you did go back and change the past, not least because you’d be careful NOT to eliminate yourself, right? Plus, you couldn’t possibly go back to eliminate yourself, because you would not be there to do it!

      Many years ago my Daddy taught me something that struck me intuitively as a fundamental truth: that only to humans (due to our biological limitations) is time a linear concept. To God (and/or the universe) it’s all happening at the same time, all the time. This is how human free will does not eliminate divine foreknowledge. Don’t get me started on this stuff because my abysmal ignorance somehow is not powerful enough to inhibit my enthusiastic free thinking, and it might make you want to pull your hair out! 😀 😀 😀 Much safer to think of organic gardening. Ignore the stinky breezes and go for the bovine fertilizer option. I think they (our ancestors) probably got used to it, but I’m glad I didn’t have to!

      • I agree with your daddy’s theory.

        • In that case I don’t feel so bad about taking so long to get to these comments. 😀

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