Why history is good for us…

Fernande Raine, Founder of http://www.got-history.org, has this superb post on why knowing history is good for us:

By history I don’t mean litanies of dates and facts. I mean the stories of human movement and settlement, of suffering and solutions, of ingenuity and imagination. That kind of history gives people power. It gives you the power of belonging, by helping you grow roots that go deep into the rich soil of time where they tap into values and traditions that feed your soul. It gives you the power of empathy, by opening up your eyes to other peoples’ stories, and allowing you to connect to their hopes, dreams and needs. It gives you the power of innovation by leading you into the inner workings of complex systems — be they industries or infrastructures — where you can see how they evolved and could be changed. It gives you the power of imagination, by introducing you to how human beings have thought beyond their present state, and crafted visions for the future that have carried entire armies, both militant and peaceful ones, to wage battles for progress. It gives you the power of changemaking, by showing the different ways in which people have inserted themselves into the course of history and exerted different kinds of leadership and ingenuity to chart a new path.

Small wonder, then, that a disproportionate number of people who have taken on leadership positions in the world have a passion for history. While history majors are only 2% of college graduates, they constitute 38% of Supreme Court Justices, 25% of presidents since World War II, and 6% of CEOs of Fortune 100 companies. Their ranks include a wide range of characters, from HP’s Carly Fiorina and YouTube CEO Susan Wojicki, to Ashoka’s Bill Drayton, Conan O’Brien, Martha Stewart, Malcolm Gladwell and Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Others, like Lin-Manuel Miranda, Oprah, Tom Hanks, Wynton Marsalis may not have majored in history, but they draw on its power as they inspire others to build a better world.

It obviously hard to say what is the chicken and what is the egg, i.e. whether you develop a powerful changemaker identity because you have a relationship with history, or whether you have a relationship with history because it reinforces your already existing identity as someone with a right to lead. But it is clear that history is a powerful tool to inspire leadership and a commitment to community. Too often when we talk about leadership and leadership skills we do so in a vacuum — focused on skills and capacities but without human context. But it is history that gives you that context and a reason to embark on the journey of a change agent. Not only does it satisfy — and expand — a deep sense of curiosity about the world which innovators and leaders share, it also provides a bumpy, four-dimensional map of where we are today and where we could go. It is this form of history as a source of personal power that comes alive in religious settings, where teachers celebrate the stories of leaders from Moses to MLK to build a shared understanding of the the power of love and leadership in the face of adversity. This is the history used in private settings by parents, who take their children to historical sites, tell family stories, watch movie or read books with them, to convey a sense of personal values, human connection and obligation to a higher calling.

I would also add knowing history will tell us when politicians are twisting and misrepresenting history to make political gains..


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