Professor Sabrow, the past is behind us, and we can shape the present and the future. Is remembering “that which was” just wasted time?
If you define the past as being behind us, then perhaps yes. But I’m not entirely sure that the past is definitively behind us. I think the past is just as changeable as the future. Almost every day we see how the past can be interpreted anew.
Dealing with the past can therefore offer new insights time and again.
Yes, aside from which, dealing with the past is not wasted time because it gives us a certain security in a rapidly changing or uncertain world. The past is a resource of the knowledge from whence we come. And last but not least, the past is also a source for better understanding of the pathways into the future.
How can we extrapolate expectations of the present or the future from the past?
This can be accomplished in three different ways. In the first instance, if you have the feeling that your expectations about life haven’t been satisfied, you might plan your life by reflecting on the course wrongly set. A second possibility is to call upon a proud tradition and seek to imitate it with a mimetic approach. There is also a third way of dealing with the past, the cathartic, which focuses on dissociating from it.
Let’s take a look back: when did jubilees come into being?
Jubilees have their origin in Ancient Judea, therefore in the biblical era. At the time, a trumpet-like instrument made of a ram’s horn—jobel is the Hebrew word for ram—was sounded to open the jubilee year. A jubilee year occurred every fifty years, at which time loans, interest, indebtedness, bankruptcies, etc. were discharged. The papal jobel year, or Jubilee year, developed from this, in which not debts but sins were forgiven. After the Reformation, the Protestant Church wished to counter this jubilee year with something of its own. So, since the eighteenth century, the anniversary of the Reformation in 1517 has been celebrated every fifty years.
TÜV SÜD is celebrating one hundred and fifty years of existence this year. Why do traditional companies so gladly look back?
The fashion began with German universities celebrating the anniversaries of Goethe and Schiller; soon private companies began discovering jubilees for their own purposes in the nineteenth century. But the reason wasn’t debt relief for their customers; rather, the companies sought to emphasize their age and continuity. This looking back onto an unbroken tradition implied a promise that such a path would continue into the future.