Jewish World Review August 22, 2002 / 14 Elul 5762

Spiritual football

By Dr. Abraham Twerski, M.D. |

“ What experience and history teach is this-that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it.”

                        —   Georg W. F. Hegel

When professional football players review a film from last week's or last year's game, they are acting spiritually because they are attempting to learn from their mistakes. Spiritual man is aware of his history and therefore can aspire to the greatness of his forbears and also avoid repeating their mistakes.

Does a descendant of Alexander the Great's horse, Becephalus, take pride in the equine heroics of his illustrious ancestor and aspire to similar greatness? Will the foal of this year's winner of the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, War Emblem, review the films of the Belmont to figure out how his father went wrong so that he can win the Triple Crown in three years time? Doubtful.

It should be immediately apparent how much each of us and how humanity as a whole would benefit from this aspect of spirituality. It has been correctly said that the only thing we learn from history is that man has never learned from history. How much tragedy and suffering could have been avoided if men would only learn from the past.

History is replete with repetitious blunders. As someone remarked, "the trouble with our world is not that 'It's one thing after another,' but that it's the same foolish thing over and over again." Things were bad enough when people fought one another by catapulting heavy boulders over castle walls. With nuclear weapons at its disposal, mankind's failure to learn from history has become an extremely serious problem in that man now has the capability of rendering himself extinct.

The three simple words, "But I'm different!" belies a blindness that may explain man's avoidance of the lessons of history. Most people are not foolish enough to jump off a tall building and to attempt to fly by flapping their arms. They respect the lessons of the past that teach that everyone who has tried that has fallen to his death. Nevertheless these same people see themselves as different and immune to the lessons of history. Therefore, when it comes to building empires, seeking domination over others, or appropriating the property or rights of others, they wear blinders. People continue to blunder in their so called ignorance, deluded by the conviction that, "I'm different," and refusing to learn the lessons easily available in any library.

In the microcosm of the recovering alcoholic, the failure to respect history, and to somehow think, "I'm different," is an inevitable prelude to relapse. We now have documented and verified evidence that once a person has developed the disease of alcoholism, there is no way he can ever return to normal and safe consumption of alcohol. Yet even people with substantial intellectual achievements to their credit, who are high in sapiens, are oblivious to learning from their mistakes.

Relapse into alcoholism or other chemical addiction may occur in persons whose college degrees and academic honors attest to their intellectual superiority. They may have a period of abstinence during which they appear to have an awareness of the treachery and ruinous consequences of addiction. Their resorting once again to the use of dangerous chemicals leads us to the conclusion that in spite of their intellectual prowess, these people have not learned from history, namely the history of their experiences. To the degree that a person fails to learn from his own history, he is failing to access a crucial aspect of his humanness-his spiritual self.

The lack of this ingredient of his spirituality, in which the ego inhibits one's learning from history, is loosely related to another type of slavery-domination by internal drives.

Just as a judge's capacity to judge fairly is impaired by a bribe or other personal interest, so is one's rational judgment capacity impaired by the self-interest of gratifying one's immediate desires. If a person is offered participation in a business venture of questionable ethics, and there is a great deal of money to be made, it is amazing how many ingenious rationalizations we can produce to justify the questionable ethical practices. We are rarely at a loss for reasons to legitimize something that we strongly desire.

Inasmuch as our internal drives are never completely subdued, the only safeguard against being duped by our rationalizations is to ask for advice and guidance from someone we trust and whose opinion we respect. It often takes an objective observer who is not biased by our personal interest to render a proper judgment.

People who adhere to a twelve step program know that recourse to a sponsor for guidance is indispensable. People who want to enhance their spirituality would do well to follow their example and avail themselves of competent counselors to help them avoid the entrapment when a strong desire clouds the truth and prevents them from making just decisions based on learning from their own personal history.


Self-blinding perceptions destroy spiritual growth
Learning to Like Yourself
Contented cows
Spiritual animals?
The Believer's Guide to 'Buying' Happiness
Preventing future attacks
American Spirituality
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): A very real condition
Helping our kids deal with trauma
The Creator helps those who help themselves
Knowing what to expect
Psychological fallout in the shadow of terrorism
Self-esteem in the face of world terrorism

Abraham J. Twerski, M.D. is a psychiatrist and ordained rabbi. He is the founder of the Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Pittsburgh, a leading center for addiction treatment. An Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, he is a prolific author, with some 30 books to his credit. He has recently launched a new 12 step program for self esteem development Send your comments by clicking here.

© 2002, Abraham J. Twerski, M.D.