History as a resource of knowledge for People Development professionals and Coaches.

Nature and Nurture

“We are not makers of history, we are made by history”, Martin Luther King, Jr.

Human beings are the result of Nature and Nurture; we are our genes and their interaction with the environment.

Our behaviour is the manifestation of our thinking and emotions, which are produced by our beliefs and hormones circulating in our body. Robert Sapolsky in his book Behave (2017) explains how nature and social context affect our biology and behaviour in the long run. Changes that happened in the physical and social environment thousands of years ago shaped our biology and neurological structure that produces our behaviour today.

Studying history is observing the changes that human kind went through and understand our behaviour today.

The process of people development, mentoring, training and coaching aim at helping a person change their behaviour and act in a different way.  

In order to make progress we need to understand where we stand today and what has shaped our behaviour until today; how we have behaved in similar situations; how we formed our current beliefs; what we have achieved in the past.

It is our personal history that evolves within the historical framework where we are born.

Country and ethnicity (or nationality?)

The country in which a person is born provides the framework of their understanding of the world. Countries differ in geography, organisation, political structure and level of economic development. Although we have access to data and statistics about the current situation of a country, it is useful to learn about its history and how it was shaped until today.

The way a country is governed today is a result of previous choices which mirror a way of thinking. Living in a democratic country versus a communism regime shapes a completely different understanding in people about what the world is and what is should be. Most importantly it shapes their understanding of their position in the world as an individual: what I deserve, what I am entitled to, what my rights are.

The history of the country, the fights it has fought, the enemies it has confronted, the challenges it has faced, the victories and defeats have created beliefs around what is good and what is evil, what a good citizen must and mustn’t do, what is and what isn’t fair and whether “we” are winners or losers.

It is our national pride about what we achieved in the past that makes us feel proud of ourselves today and behave accordingly to a person from another nationality that we may subconsciously consider equal, superior or inferior. Because our ancestors defeated them or they defeated us, they conquered our country or we conquered theirs; we admire or hate the stereotype that we have created about them.  Stereotypes are based in historical events and carried through time. They may seem inexplicable today but they have a valid explanation in history.

“We” may be “our” nation that fought against the “enemies” and won or was eliminated and therefore we unconsciously hate everything that reminds “us” of “them”. In the same realm, the myths and stories that each nation created to support their authenticity and superiority have produced a number of behaviours and beliefs reproduced by the members in their interactions without any conscious decision about them.

They are a product of their long -time history.

Habits and Traditions

Habits and traditions describe the way we do things in our culture: what we eat which lead to what we cultivate and how we consume; how we celebrate and how we choose spouses; how we raise our children and how many children we have.

They depict the way we think about our society and our life with others; we celebrate specific events in a specific way because those events have always been important in our tradition and indicate a belief about our life.

For example, the wedding that has always been an important life event in most civilisations: for some cultures it is the most important life event for a person and defines their social status in the community. Because in the past, the wedding was the way to pacify between enemies and share neighbouring lands or unify lands and create a more sustainable family and community life by increasing food production and avoiding conflicts and bloodshed; it was also the socially acceptable and mandatory way to procreate soldiers for the country and farmers that would produce food for the family.

For this reason, the marriage should be stable and last for life. As a result of that historical necessity of societies in the past, the belief that was created was that marriage is for life and it is a huge disaster and failure in case that it is dissolved. Until recently, that belief was still strong although the social and economic structures had changed completely. Fortunately, in most modern societies such beliefs are changing and adapting to current reality and to the needs of individuals instead of the need of communities as our modern world requires.

History can explain the what and why of traditions and habits and shed light to the evolution of what often seems “a mystery” in human behaviour.

Language and Religion

Language and Religion are the two most important elements of culture that divulge our past and explain our present.

Language is the manifestation of the world and as L. Wittgenstein stated “The limits of my language means the limits of my world”. Language conveys the historical evolution of a culture with all the influences that may have changed “the world” of a population in a specific area. Language reveals the thinking in that context and uncovers beliefs: the verb “to have” doesn’t exist in some languages spoken in the steppes where people had everything in common. History explains why.

Religion on the other hand has played a significant role in shaping moral principles and social structure, for example, hierarchical superiority of certain casts in India or the inferior position of women in Islam; in both cases religion dictates the right thing to do and people incorporate that belief naturally and resulting behaviours appear. The expansion of each religion in geographical areas can be explained by History.

History explains Behaviour

History is a record of Change; it studies the changes that have happened in human societies and the evolution of the human being over time. The study of History provides explanation on the formation of beliefs, individual differences and emotions.

It can lighten how cultural, ethnological and social differences and similarities were created and make us better understand where each person draws their beliefs and mentality from. It explains stereotypes and big achievements of the Humanity.

History offers perspective: through tough wars and rough times people developed strong civilisations, flourished and then perished; and then a new civilisation rised and followed the same cycle.

For centuries, people’s lives were continuous work under extreme conditions of poverty, wars, cold, illnesses and insufficiency of food and clean water.

It is the first time in the history of mankind that our priority is work-life balance and psychological safety at work which we often consider non-negotiable in the highly developed Western world. Our grand-fathers and great grand-fathers would be shocked if they found out that our generation sees a therapist every time they have a disagreement with a colleague and feel stressed. What would happen if that generation had to fight for the country at a real war?

History opens our mind to the long-term evolution of humans, to understanding and accepting beliefs and values that differ totally from ours. And maybe the most important lesson: realise the power and determination of people to work hard, to fight, to risk and live.

 “To remain ignorant of history, is to remain forever a child” Marcus Tullius Cicero.

Coaching is a process that leads people to adulthood; history is a treasure of examples and learnings for a coach to understand how humanity is evolving and maturing.

History is a series of achievements of different populations going through hard circumstances; it explains how local and individual differences were formed throughout the centuries and how human beings created great civilizations and caused huge disasters. They were people like us and like our clients. New, dangerous, pioneering and challenging things have happened before by other people; why not follow their example? We can use the examples from History to understand our clients better and trigger their best potential.

History can be our driver towards adulthood.

Published by Maria Biquet

Organisational Development Consultant Executive Coach / Neurocoaching Expert

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