This article will be the first in a series entitled "Lessons from the US: What Europe can learn from the US and the mistakes it needs to avoid."
If we are serious about building a better future for the European continent we cannot avoid looking at what policies and ideas have worked or failed, both at home and abroad, throughout history. The US, one of the most powerful nations in the world and a "fast lane" success story, is perhaps a good place to begin in terms of comparisons. And, seeing as how the EU, an important European project, seeks to emulate this American structure, it seems our analytical endeavor might be beneficial.
Therefore, to start off, let us look at the relationship between past and future.
Europe needs to avoid the mistake of believing that progress is only ushered in by the complete severance of ties with the past. There will always be mistakes and exaggerations from which to learn. Such experiences do not need to follow us into the future in any other way than as lessons.
However, if we are afraid that everything in the past might harm us, if we are convinced that there is nothing there necessary or of any value, we might be ignoring centuries or indeed millennia of wisdom and carefully gathered observations.
If we are to leave behind all identity, all tradition, everything which defines our history and values, then we are no longer acquainted with ourselves. And to forget ourselves means that we become vulnerable.
In order for us to stay healthy, we tell our doctor our family medical history or however much of it we can remember. We learn our blood type, the illnesses to which we are genetically susceptible, allergies, and elements we need to keep under control, such as blood sugar, caloric intake and so on. We would have a hard time staying healthy without knowledge of what makes us ill.
It is the same when it comes to our history, traditions, and identity. The ties of the past are important and their usefulness cannot be underestimated. The purpose of history is to be remembered. It should be a guiding force for the future. It is meant to educate not to trap or hold back.
There are many, for instance in the United States, who struggle with the idea of what it means to be who they are. What does it mean to be “American”? One can hear this question from many on the continent, no matter their background.
The US is the home of the present. There is, especially nowadays, the tendency to forget or scorn the past. That is why it has become a place of longing. The ambiguous term “American” transforms into “Irish American”, “Latino American”, “African American” and so on. People long for their identity and there is simply nothing which can substitute for that. Not even a country. Similarly, to be European would not mean much without its underlying identities.
It would be wise of Europe not to forget its past lessons, and, to remember its old ties. It is the only way in which it can truly say it is celebrating diversity and looking forward to brotherly cooperation. It is the only way in which its people’s thirst for belonging can be quenched. For, whether one is born on the continent or comes here for a better life, they will know the culture they have embraced.