Life lessons from history for 2023 – and a question to consider every day this year

The dawn of a new year is a good excuse to slow down and reflect. I’ve always found it a good idea not to get too caught up in the details of immediate events, but rather reflect them through yesterday. In other words, thinking about history helps me understand that life has always been full of curious and strange happenings.

Political scandal? There was a time when federal Agriculture Minister Eugene Whelan was criticized for wasting taxpayers’ money in the dead of winter by flying to Miami. Whelan’s defense? « It was very cold the day I was there. » Turns out he went to give a speech to a corn growers association in Miami, Manitoba.

Politicians who are not communicative? At a dinner party in the 1920s, US President Calvin Coolidge – who had already earned the nickname « Silent Cal » – sat next to a woman who explained that a friend had bet him that she could not get three words from him. The president said, « You lose. »

Problems in the Russian army? During World War II, Joseph Stalin issued a directive that any deserter was to be shot on the spot. Georgy Zhukov, Marshal of the Soviet Union, observed that « it took a very brave man to be a coward in the Red Army ».

Besides, does it change? In 1936, Time magazine published an article that examined the 37,000 road deaths in the United States the previous year. He concluded that almost all fatal crashes were caused by only 15% of drivers. The magazine called these drivers « speed freaks, drunks or morons ».

What news is really important? Benjamin Franklin witnessed the first manned ascent by hot air balloon in a field outside Paris in 1783. The flight took about 25 minutes and traveled nine kilometers, and although it was quite impressive, someone asked to Franklin what was the use of this feat. Could have. Franklin replied, “What good is a newborn baby?

Coming to the wrong conclusion? Shelby Metcalf spent more than a quarter century as a basketball coach at Texas A&M University. He also earned a doctorate along the way, so he knew something about scholarship. Examining the notes of one of his players, one day he saw four Fs and one D. « Son, » he said, « seems to me you’re spending too much time on one topic. »

Food for thought? Leroy « Satchel » Paige, a black man and possibly the greatest pitcher of all time, didn’t pitch in the major leagues for a very long time because of the color of his skin. He was 42 when he was finally allowed to play his first match. No rookie has ever been older than that. He threw his last pitch at age 59, the oldest major league player of all time. He once asked a question we should all ask every day: « How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are? »

Happy new year 2023.

Mark Bulgutch is the former Senior Executive Producer of CBC News. His latest book is “Inspiring Canadians”.

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