Go Deeper Than Precedent

You know what a precedent is–it’s a discrete event, action, or happening that has occurred before and which has occurred again in present time. You read a newspaper or hang out on a current-events website and you’ll find a reference to precedents. They’re not clearly or directly labeled as such but they’re there. Whatever you can think of in today’s world and your life right now, there’s a precedent for it somewhere in the past. There’s a precedent for everything, no matter how weird, freakish, or shocking. And therein lies a problem.

Too many people think history is just about precedents. They explain away judgment and priority by saying that event A, action B, or happening C have all occurred before. So why bother worrying when it or they appear again? I suspect that people who ultimately arrive at a point where they no longer believe in morality have, at some juncture, embraced precedent as the core of history. 

My advise to you is to remember that history is more than precedent. It’s easy to think that history is strictly about showing us precedents for things in our lives today. But that’s not history’s only purpose, not perhaps even its most important purpose. While precedent is part of history, so too are context, the flow of the story, and the amazingly rich blend of finite and infinite options and choices for any given situation.