In 1963, the author James Baldwin was interviewed by LIFE Magazine, and the publication wanted to know where he gets his inspiration.
In response, Baldwin said:
You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was reading books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or whoever had been alive. An artist is a sort of emotional historian.
There’s a quote by the author Kelly Hayes that I really like that relates to this topic:
“Everything feels unprecedented when you haven’t engaged with history.”
This is absolutely correct. Even when history’s actors come and go, the plot stays unchanged.
I think the big-picture behaviours that recur across multiple periods, generations, and societies are what makes studying history worthwhile, rather than the exact details of certain events, which are always random and never repeat.
One hundred years from now, people will still be struggling with the same issues of greed and fear as they did one hundred years ago. The longer a pattern of behaviour persists in the past, the greater the likelihood that it will continue to do so in the future. There is no other technique to make reliable predictions.
Due to my deep interest in the subject, I regularly consume both books and television shows on history.
China’s Communist leader Mao Zedong led his troops through what is known as Ch’ang Cheng the “Long March.” Under attack from the Nationalists led by Chiang Kai-shek, Chairman Mao led the retreat that lasted for 368 days and covered 9500 kilometres.
In a similar manner as before, Fidel Castro’s revolution army called The 26th of July Movement also walked from the Sierra Maestra mountains all the way to Havana to overthrow the government of Fulgencio Batista.
There are stories of how the 600 RPF soldiers walked from the north of the country to the capital city of Kigali as part of Rwanda’s revolution before the 1994 genocide.
Even when history’s actors come and go, the plot remains constant. Same script, different cast.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
What’s great about reading history and ancient writers isn’t necessarily the wisdom of what they said, but rather comparing what people believed back then to what they believe now and seeing where there are overlaps.
Marcus Aurelius said:
“We all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own,”
This quote sounds like something that would be written on a poster today. The thing is Aurelius said that almost 2,000 years ago. Age matters. If it was true then and is true now, it’s a basic component of how humans work and will be for the rest of my life.
This is the way a lot of things operate. Podcast David Senra recently said:
I don’t read a story and say, “That person’s dead now, I have nothing to worry about.” No, that personality type was alive then, they’re alive today, and they will be alive in the future. Human nature is constant.
It’s possible that history will teach you more about our future than any living expert who has a profound understanding of the specifics of the economy we live in today.
Developer of video games Jane McGonigal once commented:
“I’ve learned an important trick: to develop foresight, you need to practice hindsight.”
History teaches you what never changes. This is what Schopenhauer realised when he said:
“The wise have always said the same things, and fools have always done just the opposite.”
Mark Twain said it best:
“History never repeats itself, but it does often rhyme.”