I admit it. I’m a history buff. Whether it’s reading about the Second World War, Renaissance Italy, the Roman Empire, or ancient Mesopotamia, I always find something of value in studying history.

I’m not talking about the so-called “lessons of history.” It’s more about gaining a general sense of perspective on current events by understanding three key things. First, human nature hasn’t changed that much in 2,500 (or perhaps even 5,000) years, with the consequence that events tend to reoccur in similar ways over time. I think it was Churchill who said, “History never repeats, but it does rhyme.”

Second, humans are pretty much the same everywhere. Yes, there are cultural differences. But we’re all basically the same. I’ve also observed this through my work and travels in many varied countries and cultures around the world.

The third point is that our current reality is contingent upon past events. Our world today didn’t just pop into existence the day before yesterday. You can’t understand the recent election of Justin Trudeau, for instance, without knowing that his father was prime minister from 1968 to 1984. Would he have been elected to head the Liberal party and now prime minister without that heritage? That’s not a criticism, but it is a legitimate observation and question.

By the same token, people complain a lot about how politics has supposedly degenerated in recent decades. We hear and read all the time that things used to be so much more civil. Really? Anyone with a passing knowledge of even the recent past will know that is not the case. Until the 1970s, bars and taverns were closed on election day because of the problems that were caused by round buying and brawling. A century ago, Protestants and Catholics fought street battles on Orange Day. Not just in Northern Ireland. In Canada. Go back a little further and see the level of invective during the presidential election before the US Civil War. If we go all the way back to the Roman Empire, only about 5 or 10 % of the emperors died peacably in their beds. Most of them were hacked to death.

In many ways, we live in peacable times, at least in civilized countries. But in many areas of the world, past history of the West is still playing out in political and civil violence. Maybe we’re fortunate, but I also like to think we’re reaping the benefits of past lessons and mistakes and our continuing upholding of civilized values and culture.

Richard Martin is The Force Multiplier. He brings his military and business leadership and management experience to bear for executives and organizations seeking to radically improve performance, grow, and thrive in the face of rapid change, harsh competition, and increasing uncertainty.

© 2015 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.

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