“Penny for your thoughts, oh no, I sell them for a dollar. They’re worth so much more after I’m a goner. Maybe then you’ll hear the words I’ve been singing. Funny when you’re dead how people start listenin’.” (If I Die Young – The Band Perry)
So yes, this is a quote from a country song. And yes I am probably pathetically addicted to country music. But this quote has stuck with me for years. Because it’s true.
As a society, we have an obsession with the words of those who are dead. We love people’s final words, the things they thought were important enough to be the very last thing they said on earth. We are much more likely to accept the words of the dead as true.
I think all of this is crazy. I believe society listens to the dead because the dead are no longer here to argue with us. We can interpret whatever they said however we want, and they can’t correct us.
This fits our need to support our own thoughts and statements with people who are widely respected. So we twist what other people said. We take respected thinkers and interpret their teachings to fit our agenda. And man are we good at it!
We have done this throughout history. Everybody interprets the Bible and other religious texts differently to support their fanaticism. We use dead philosophers to justify our specific morality. We distort scientific revelations in order to sell our product. We are ridiculously good at using the past to our advantage.
And this habit is destroying our society. We don’t really read the writings of philosophers and scientists anymore. We choose to pick and choose quotes that seem to support us instead of learning what they were trying to teach us. But learning from the past is how we progress.
If we had to relearn everything, we would be in serious trouble. That’s why our tendency is so disturbing. If we want to keep making discoveries and improving our world then we need to actually learn the lessons of the past. To listen to the voices that came before us.