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Thursday 27 November 2008

Freedom and Learning from History

In the ancient days of 'O' levels, it was necessary to learn dates and names - The Treaty of Vienna, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the Treaty of Versailles; Hastings, Agincourt, Edgehill, The Somme...So much of it was made up of battles - who won, who lost, how the boundaries of countries were redrawn.
Behind the dates and facts were outcomes and it was very much like the old cliché of 'history is one damned thing after another.'
Eventually, social history was introduced. Out went the battles, the treaties and the maps, and in came what was basically a history of 'the poor'. In came factories, children at work, inventions, railways, unions, schools: a kind of history of 'the people.'
It is my firm belief that the only way to learn from history is to understand the individuals - not 'children at work' not kings and rulers or politicians, but individuals: their motivations and psychology because the more we looks at these things, the more we seem them played out time after time.
How many insane rulers have dominated societies? And, more the point, how many millions of people have listened to those rulers, believing themselves powerless until it came to a point where they could stand it no more and the outcome was either a bloody revolution or a war? It seems that throughout history 98% of people have wanted to be led. They did not want to look into psychology or motivation - their own or anyone else's - to see beyond the appearance of things and so sleepwalked into their own abyss. They did not ask, "Why does this man want to rule us? Why do we need to be ruled?" Instead they said, "He is the king/president/Fuhrer/Caesar and he will change everything and make everything wonderful for us!" Perhaps he is a wise king and does his best. Perhaps he is an avaricious power-seeking person. Perhaps he is completely insane ..It doesn't matter what he is - what matters is that people have forgotten that they have the ability to choose their own course, make their own decisions and have entrusted their lives to him.
The bad news is (to my mind) that person can never deliver the expectations.
When they wake up to this fact, the response is anger and a sense of betrayal. If the ruler is a good man, wanting the best for his people - like Tsar Nicholas - they destroy him. If he is a power-seeking individual, like Stalin or Lenin, he destroys them.
The good news is (to my mind) we can learn from history and the biggest lesson is to realize that no one is going to change our world and make it great and make everything right. Only we, as individuals, can change our own lives. There isn't anyone to do this for us. I would venture so far as to say - from a religious perspective - Jesus and all the great spiritual leaders, handed power back to people and what did they do? They ran after him saying, "Saviour! Saviour! Save us!"
King, Tsar, President, Fuhrer, Comrade, Saviour....They never deliver and we kill them are allow them to crush us. Our choice is to wake up and say, "We no longer need to look outside ourselves to someone else to give us freedom or prosperity or hope. It is all within us and there is no one to blame, no one to depend on and no one to deceive us." Freedom comes when we stop expecting it to come from someone else.

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