Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Decoding Your History to Shape Your Future for the Better

The Power of History 

“If you don't know history, then you don't know anything. You are a leaf that doesn't know it is part of a tree. ” ― Michael Crichton, Timeline

Ah, Michael Crichton, the truth you speak!  Our lives do not exist in bubbles; we are connected to the past. The conversations of humanity roll onward through our creations, beliefs, values, cultures, proclivities, and ultimately our greater government systems and civilizations.

Sometimes history teaches us to hold the course; some principles remain reliable and true.  Rudyard Kipling warns of this in his poem, "The God's of the Copybook Headings:"

AS I PASS through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "Stick to the Devil you know."

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "The Wages of Sin is Death."

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "If you don't work you die."

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

According to Wikipedia, Copybooks are notebooks "used in education that contains examples of handwriting and blank space for learners to imitate" ( (education) ).  The Copybook Headings, which Kipling references in his poem, are phrases, proverbs, or principles generally held to be true, despite modern social philosophies to the contrary, which students would copy repeatedly in their copybooks to practice their handwriting.

Thucydides, in The History of the Peloponnesian War, states"History is philosophy teaching by examples."  In other words, the stories of the past reveal what others believed, acted according to, and valued through their choices and the effects which followed.

Othertimes history shows us the need to recreate, rethink, rework, and reinvent.  By the time James Madison (1751-1836) advised Congress on principles of past republics, he had served in his home state's General Assembly, the Continental Congress prior to and during the Revolutionary War, and the Congress under the Articles of Confederation following the successful conclusion of the war. By the first Constitutional Convention, Madison was well versed in statesmanship but his skills in scholarship were equally demanded for the work at hand.  According to the Bill of Rights Institute in the article "Ancient Republics and European Charters:":

"Before entering college, for example, young James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Adams were expected to read, translate, and speak intelligently about the original Greek and Latin writings of Plato, Aristotle, Virgil, Cicero, and many others. Knowledge of the past led them to dismay at the bad results of past republics. While they studied the past, they did not revere it. They were not afraid to break new ground. They wanted a political science that worked, as opposed to utopian theories of republics of the past." (Source:

Madison discovered that "The history of ancient republics was full of warnings. Power-hungry men either seduced the public with their charisma, conspired with others to stage distracting false controversies, or offered pleasant diversions while slowly but surely dismantling freedom."

Madison used the failed examples of history to inform the creation of the United States Constitution which was ratified and brought into law on June 21, 1788.  For his service, scholarly leadership, and insight, Madison came to be known as "The Father of the Constitution." (Source:

The Power of Your Own History

Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States, agreed with Madison's opinion regarding history's power when he said: "The more you know about the past, the better prepared you are for the future." This is true not only for our shared history but is also true on a more personal level.  Our own past, the stories we have lived this far, can teach us to either hold the course or to recreate, rethink, rework, and reinvent our own present and future.

Robert Penn Warren, American poet, novelist, teacher, and literary critic (1905-1989), concurs: "History cannot give us a program for the future, but it can give us a fuller understanding of ourselves, and of our common humanity, so that we can better face the future." Our personal history can be a stepping stone of understanding to inform our present and shape our future.

Decoding Your History to Shape Your Future

"History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again. ― Maya Angelou

Lately, I've been motivated by the vision of a parallel future.  I imagine a future where I acted on my dream with courage and conviction,  I can see myself there, living, working, feeling.  And I lament my present fear and reservation and I wrestle to destroy it so that vision of the future becomes my reality.  The pain of releasing self-doubt and present comfort becomes greater than the pain of missed opportunity. My fear cannot be allowed to hold my future hostage or erase its possibilities.  Sometimes pain, imagined or real, is a great motivator.

The Steps of Self-Realization and Growth

Step #1: Remember and Ponder the Transformative Events of Your Life Up To Today

  • What have you accomplished or created that you are proud of?
  • What process did you use to accomplish or create those things?
  • What events, both negative and positive, stand out to you?  Think about the most prominent events that come into your mind. Think childhood, holidays, middle and high school, family life, family trips, moving to new places, clubs or organizations, friend groups, college, jobs, hobbies or activities, tragedy, and celebration.

Step #2: Find the Patterns

  • For each of these prominent events, you have remembered, write at least one lesson or one understanding you gained from that event.  
  • With each of these events, how have you responded?  Your response will give you insight into what you believe about life, fairness, justice, love, devotion, and happiness.
  • What patterns do you see emerging in your response to these transformative events? 

Step #3: Evaluate Your Transformative Events

  • What qualities have you developed because of these events? Have you become more timid or bolder? More guarded or more vulnerable? More careful or more carefree, etc.? 
  • What beliefs or ideas have you formed because of these events? About the meaning and purpose of living?  About the meaning and purpose of your life specifically?  About your resilience and creativity? About the nature and purpose of family and friends?  About faith in God and in yourself? About money? About prosperity? About education and learning? About your potential?
  • What have you chosen to rethink or learned to let go of based on these events?
  • What have you learned to value and prioritize based on these events? 

Step # 4: Apply or Adapt For the Future

  • According to your best judgment, is there any belief, idea, or value you set for yourself that needs to be revisited and revised?  Were any of your previous conclusions about yourself, about the nature of your life, and your place in it, rashly made?  
  • If you continue making decisions based on your current beliefs and values, what will your life look like in 5-10 years?  
  • Work backward.  Imagine what you'd like your life to look and feel like at the end of it.  What will have brought you the most joy?  What beliefs and values will you have had to embrace to bring that vision into reality?  Are they compatible with your current views and understanding of things?
  • What will you need to embrace ideologically?  What will you need to release ideologically in order to achieve that end vision of your life?

These are big questions and may require time to explore honestly and thoroughly.  It will be both painful and joyful.  Humiliating and gratifying. Take some time to ponder and consider your answers.  Talk about them with someone you trust who knows you and loves you.  Or curl up on your couch to write them down in a journal with a warm cup of herbal tea and a cozy blanket.  Yes, please!

Our history can coach our present and inform our future positively if we become aware of our own reactions and beliefs to both the negative and positive events of our pasts.  Knowledge is power: knowledge about ourselves, about our reactions, about our interpretations of events, about our chosen and learned behaviors.  We have great power to affect our present and future as we come to understand our past as pattern-filled, instructional, and revealing.

An Invitation

I'd love to hear a story about what you've learned and become through one of your transformative experiences.  Please share it in the comments below or email me at and I'll post it on this blog.  I'd love to learn from you!  Until then...

Live Beautifully!

Heather Butler
Founder and CEO of Beautiful Living Systems

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