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Thursday, March 20, 2014

What History Can Teach Us About Ourselves

Just after the new year a friend recommended a new book for me to read based on my love for European and Middle Eastern history. The Arabs: A History is a fascinating read written by a British man, Eugene Rogan, who learned Arabic and Turkish so he could interpret both from a Western perspective and a Middle Eastern perspective.

He records that in 1921 during the colonial period of British rule (the French had a large hand in cutting up the former Ottoman empire as well), Faisal, the British puppet king of an artificial nation of Iraq made of multiple ethno-religious peoples, writes of being shunned by his fractious subjects. "There is still – and I say this with a heart full of sorrow – no Iraqi people, but unimaginable masses of human beings devoid of any patriotic idea, imbued with religious traditions and absurdities, connected by no common tie, giving ear to evil, prone to anarchy, and perpetually ready to rise against any government whatsoever." 

It’s almost as if Faisal is writing an epistle to modern-day Western politicians, warning of an impending pattern of un-winnable wars with and for people whom we don’t understand.

As much as I find that all captivating, I find it of the utmost importance to use our own historical information to examine our own lives, our recent and ancient pasts, to look for patterns of success and triumph—and patterns of our own versions of entering into un-winnable wars. Life is short and there simply isn’t enough time to be repeating mistakes that lead to misery.

Your successes—what were the basic elements (not the details) of how you achieved success. Persistence? A specific time of day, week, or year? Research? Partnerships?

Your defeats—what were the basic elements of how you feel into defeat? Lack of passion? Minimal preparation? Rushing into a decision?

There are thousands of conclusions and outcomes, if modern Western politicians heeded (or even knew about) Faisal’s ominous letter from 1921. But there are probably far fewer, and more controllable combinations and permutations when we work to draw from our own past to improve our future. 

Read your tea leaves or take a stab in the dark and future results will vary.

Read your history and results will be closer to the future you desire.
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