by KJ Howe
Vienna, Austria. That’s where I'm writing from today as I travel through Austria, Hungary, Germany, and Czech. During a walking tour of Prague, the guide, a philosophical man, pondered whether we could all benefit from studying the past. "If more people studied history, perhaps they could come to a greater understanding of what went wrong in the past and live differently as a result." Maybe this is true. Let’s take a look at two examples:
Vienna was the seat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that was also known as the Holy Roman Empire, a conglomeration of many different countries with different languages and cultures, all striving toward the same goals with all the parties fiercely loyal to the Habsburg Monarchy. Despite having such varied people from Austria, Hungary, Czech, Italy, Slovenia, and more, they thrived together as a single political unit for centuries. There are many lessons to be learned here about how everyone worked together that could be well-applied in our world today.
But the individual stories of how people lived can teach us as much as stories of empires. For example, Empress Elizabeth, wife of Franz Josef, was consumed by concerns about her appearance. A stunning woman, she worked out and dieted obsessively to maintain her twenty-inch waist. Every morning, her hairdresser spent an hour brushing out her hair (her personal hairdresser made more money than a university professor!). She didn't allow any photos or portraits after she passed age 40 (she was murdered at 61) because she always wanted to be remembered as a young and beautiful woman. Overly conscious of imperfect teeth, she carried a fan around with her and used it to block her face in all public forums. Imagine all the work and worry involved with this level of obsession about appearance. Perhaps this could be a good example for young women, teach them the pitfalls of caring about appearance more than substance? Empress Elizabeth's story reminds me somehow of Princess Diana's tragic tale.
I'd love to hear if you feel that there are lessons we could all learn from history? Have you been shaped by what you've learned from history?