“Civilization is not inherited; it has to be learned and earned by each generation anew.” - Will and Ariel Durant
This month I revisited The Lessons of History by Will and Ariel Durant. It is a short and fabulous book, coming in just over 100 pages. I recommend it to anyone who is interested in the broader forces that shape our world.
Here is an extended passage from the final chapter titled “Is Progress Real?”:
“To those of us who study history not merely as a warning reminder of man’s follies and crimes, but also as an encouraging remembrance of generative souls, the past ceases to be a depressing chamber of horrors; it becomes a celestial city, a spacious country of the mind, wherein a thousand saints, statesmen, inventors, scientists, poets, artists, musicians, lovers, and philosophers still live and speak, teach and carve and sing.
“This historian will not mourn because he can see no meaning in human existence except that which man puts into it; let it be our pride that we ourselves may put meaning into our lives, and sometimes a significance that transcends death. If a man is fortunate he will, before he dies, gather up as much as he can of his civilized heritage and transmit it to his children. And to his final breath he will be grateful for this inexhaustible legacy, knowing it is our nourishing mother and our lasting life.”
We all are inheritors of many great lineages. Whatever you do, there are thousands who have come before you that have enabled you to do what you do.
This image of a celestial city of generative souls lifts my vision and inspires me to engage life more fully and appreciate the richness of the great minds that live on in our world.
Consider the activities you engage in, and the cumulative genius that was required to enable them. What a magnificent heritage! Let us savor our place in time and appreciate those who have enabled us. Let’s transmit what we can to the next generation.