Don't get me wrong, I think that there is a lot to be learned by looking back. My father used to quote me often that those who don't study history are doomed to repeat it. I would add in that those who don't study history are doomed to have to walk the whole path over.
But there is also no reason to discount the things we see in our regular, everyday, modern life. I have seen a bunch of posts on Facebook that are lists of quotations from ancient cultures about how to live a good life. They are truly good bits of advice, and pretty timeless. They are also all things that pretty much anyone would say if they were asked to describe how to be a good person.
It isn't that we don't have wisdom today, it's more that we don't live in a world that expects us to think for ourselves. We are constantly bombarded with other people's thoughts, words and ideas. We are given all these things we should act on, because they contain 'wisdom' but we are not taught to develop that wisdom on our own.
I also find it somewhat disconcerting that so many ancient cultures and peoples are viewed through extremely rose-colored glasses. We look only at the bits that we find desirable, and brush over (or flat out ignore) any parts we don't like or that don't fit with our modern sensibilities. Times change, and what was once acceptable is no longer. We don't go around marrying off our children to strangers, killing our neighbors because they insulted us or sacrificing surrogates so that our kings can continue their reign.
When we paint these pictures of ancient cultures as idyllic utopian societies, we are doing a huge disservice to ourselves. It sets our modern life up to impossible standards, which leads us to feel a much higher dissatisfaction with our own lives. They can never stand up to this fairy tale image we hold of other times and cultures. How can we be happy compared to that?
It's not an all or nothing thing. We can look back, be honest with ourselves, and see both the good an bad in the past. We can look at the good and take away things that will enrich our lives. We can look at the bad and learn from the lessons. We can also use that same honesty to look at our own lives and time. It can be very easy to overlook the good in our lives because media is always trying to focus on the things that are horrible. But when we are brutally honest, there are so many wonderful things in our lives, that even when things are going poorly, we still have so much bounty.