Why You Should’ve Paid Attention in History

If I could identify one theme that I’ve see a lot of in the past two weeks, it’s been the importance of history. At my new job, I’m constantly learning how things have been done historically in my position and in the agency. At school, we’re reading about the history of the nonprofit sector. I’ve never really thought of history’s importance too much until I realized I was being bombarded with it. There are a few key reasons understanding history is important.

  • To get where you’re going you have to know where you came from. I’m not going to lie – my predecessor at work did things much differently than the way I plan to do them in the future. From my perspective, much of his tasks were time intensive, inefficient, and ill-advised. But – I took the time to understand why he did things. I asked questions, and I’m continuing to ask questions of my other colleagues, about reasoning and rationale. Even if I’m hoping to do things differently, it’s good to understand the whole story, so that I can pick and choose my battles.
  • It makes you appreciate how good we have things now. It’s easy to complain that the nonprofit sector has it worse than the other sectors – we get paid less, we don’t get taken seriously, and so on. But in my reading of what the nonprofit sector used to look like – even 50 years ago – I’m jumping for joy about how official the sector is today. It wasn’t that long ago that we weren’t even considered a sector, that donations weren’t tax deductible, and that getting a nonprofit status was impossible. I’m definitely grateful that the sector has exploded the way it has and that I can be a part of it now.
  • Knowing history ensures you have all your tools in your tool belt. Moving forward, knowing the history of something can really help you in shaping goals for the future. Knowing the original goals and understanding why they were in place is essential for continuing a project. Working without this knowledge is like starting from scratch, which is very difficult.

Some might say there’s value to not knowing the history of something – it allows you to shape your own opinions and ideas, free of restriction. I disagree. I think knowing the history but keeping an open mind about the future is a much better balance.

Too bad I didn’t pay closer attention in high school.

-N.C.

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