I am an avid student of history. I love trying to get inside the minds of people in the past and try to understand why they do what they do and I love to draw the parallels to today and try to learn from it. The old saying “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it” is true. If you don’t learn from other’s mistakes, you will just have to learn from your own.
The Great Man Theory
The “Great Man” school of history is this: history can be largely explained by the impact of great men, or heroes; highly influential individuals who, due to either their personal charisma, intelligence, wisdom, or political skill used their power to affect history in a decisive way.
Modern historians scoff at this. They opine that anyone could have done what these men did, that they were simply instruments of social change. I disagree. If you put Joe Sixpack in the command seat of the British Army facing Napoleon I highly doubt that he would have fared as well, but put Napoleon into World War II and he would have made an impact. Let Stonewall Jackson lead the Roman legions, Romwell the Cavaliers, or Julius Caesar the Army of the Potomac and see what happens.
Great men make great impact. But great men are not born, they are made. Great men are driven. They learn from both their mistakes and others. Great men study the past in order to better understand the present and steer the future.
Now, in a limited sense, these men, and us personally, are shaped by our circumstances. But, as we will see, some men have the ability to rise and some are content to stay down, or do not have the ability to rise. We are all created equal, in that we have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But we are NOT equal in terms of ability.
Matthew 25:14–30 illustrates this:
The master left to go to another country to do business. He left three servants behind. To one he gave five talents, to another three, and the last servant received one talent. While the master was gone, the servants with the most talents were busy, doubling what was entrusted to them.
When the master returned the servants were called before him. He asked them to present their talents. The man with five presented them along with five more. The man with three had doubled his portion as well. The last servant fell prostrate before his master and told him how the servant knew his master was a hard man and would punish a loss, so this servant had hidden his talent under his bed.
The master was angry and reprimanded the servant, telling him that he could at least have put the money to use by the usurers, where it would have earned interest. For his slothfulness, the servant was banished and the talent was given to the servant with ten.
Great men take what they have to work with and push past the limits. A lot of times they are born in less than ideal circumstances but still claw their way up. Look at Dr. Ben Carson, for example. The man lived in less than ideal circumstances, raised by a single mom from the time he was eight, but she pushed him to excel and he fought his way out.
In future articles, I want to bring out great men to hold up as examples for us. These men were not perfect. They were human just like us, but they pushed themselves and took advantage of every opportunity to make an impact.
I read a quote the other day that said in Chinese the word “crisis” shares meaning with both the word “opportunity” and “dangerous”. Whether that’s true or not, that is still true. Let’s approach every “crisis” in our lives as a dangerous opportunity. We need to be able to see where the threads will lead us and follow them accordingly. Let’s us historical precedents and apply them to our lives to make ourselves, and the world around us, better.
If you don’t learn from other’s mistakes you will make more than your fair share of them. People don’t change, only their names and faces. Studying the great men of history is a way to gain insight into the human mind and can help you navigate the present and future.
My plan is to take a man, talk about his upbringing, show how he handled adversity, and talk about how we can apply these lessons to our lives. Hopefully, we will be able to glean something from each man and use it to improve.
Buckle up and enjoy the ride.