The concept of the Millennium has a different significance
for different people. But all groups and sections would probably agree that it is critical
that the Human Race learns the lessons of history, if we wish to live within an
environment that we might be able to call progress over the years, decades, even
The Human Race has come along way in the last 1,000 years.
It has come even further in 100,000 years, but, although you cannot have change without
progress, it is certainly not the case that all change can be defined as progress.
Progress involves value judgements about what is considered to be "right" or
"good." You can only have progress if you know where you are going. However, it
is now increasingly recognized that, unless our rate of learning is greater than the rate
of change, it is very unlikely that we will be able to equate change with progress.
Today, there are many who argue, with some justification,
that the New Millennium provides the Human Race with the greatest learning
point in history. Never before has so much intellectual effort been focused on two key
questions: Where have we come from? Where are we going?
In attempting to distill "The Wisdom of the
World" as reflected by the sayings of those who have considered these issues, both
practically and philosophically over past millennia, it is clear that many (perhaps even
all?) the important messages about the state and future of the Human Race were made over a
thousand years ago, in China, in the Middle East, and other parts of the world where
sophisticated societies had developed. Of course, in the last 1,000 years there have been
enormous changes, and an enormous increase in what has been been written, but are we
really any the wiser? Has all this increased effort and experience been translated into
effective learning and greater wisdom? This remains an open question.
Perhaps we can be optimistic if we accept the comment of
Count Oxenstierna, (Swedish Statesman,1648) "Dost thou not know, my son, with how
little wisdom the world is governed?" Yet how much better the world would be if we
could make just a small improvement.
As a small contribution to this process I have collected
together here well over a thousand messages, or quotations, that attempt to focus on what
it would be useful for us all to learn - and pass on to future generations - if we are
seriously concerned about trying to make the better place in the future. There suggestions
are here for debate; they do not pretend, in any way, to be, to be definitive.
It is, however, important to make several points on the
quotations themselves. First there is often some uncertainty over the original source of
the quotation. If anyone wishes to take issue with the source please let me know. The
exercise is attempting to be as precise as possible, but the core message in this exercise
is the message itself. This reflects: "Seek not to know who said this or that, but
take note of what has been said." (Thomas a Kempis, 1379-1471, De Imitatione
Christi). The message is what we really want to pass on. Unfortunately, it is a
reflection of our times that some people are more concerned with attribution than with
ensuring the message is passed on. The whole issue of copyright is also obviously
important, and, if anyone feels that their rights in this area have in any way be
infringed please get in contact. I do hope anyone affected will support the principle of
this initiative and recognize that, in this case, the interest of future generations
should be our paramount consideration.
There are many problems over the origin of some remarks and
who said it first. Sometimes, even when the quotation itself is well recognized, research
shows that it was based on an earlier version, with a very minor modification. For
example, Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) is attributed to having said: "If I have seen
farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." A very similar remark is
attributed, many centuries earlier, to the Roman Poet, Marcus Lucan (39-65) who is quoted
as saying: "Pygmies placed on the shoulders of giants see more than the giants
themselves." And another version by Bernard of Chartres c1120.AD, "We are like
dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than they, and things at a
greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, or any physical
distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size."
These differences not only emphasizes the point that we need to focus on the message,
rather than the messenger, but the theme of all of the versions is at the core of this
exercise as a whole.
But: "If we still have not learned the lessons of
2,000 years of history, why should we suddenly start being able to learn it now?"
Perhaps that quotation is right? However, the case for
making an effort is overwhelming. The New Millennium is a unique opportunity. We cannot
afford to ignore it. Surely, at the very least, things would be much worse if we didn't
even try! Again grounds for optimism?
The important messages appear to be relatively simple. But
that could also support the case for pessimism, as history appears to shows that it is
incredibly easy to ignore the wisdom and learning of earlier Millennia. This point also
reflects the view that, unfortunately, it is much easier to recycle the words than to put
them, effectively, into practice.