Learning from History LO1923

Gary and Lilly Evans (100451.3477@compuserve.com)
03 Jul 95 19:25:03 EDT

In the spirit of exploring new avenues for learning, I would like to
propose an excursion into history. Now, I am not a historian and would
never have thought that to be a source of significant enlightenment.
However, before my recent assignment in India, a friend recommended a book
that may put the experience in a bigger perspective. It captivated my
attention from the start with the words quoted at the end of this message.
And it went on:

"History is life itself and, like everything else that is alive, it has
both a cyclical rhythm and linear tension. This linear unfolding of
history - the Industrial Revolution, scientific progress and such - is
familiar to us because we keep our eyes glued to it; we are today
overwhelmed by it and tend to overlook the cyclical rhythm that is still
operating as vigorously as ever. This cyclical pulse shows us a definite
pattern of recurrences which is clearly visible in the development of all
human societies: they are all born, they grow and they die - and often
enough they are followed by other societies in formation, feeding off
their rotting corpses like maggots - the Persians in Babylon, the
Classical Greeks in Egypt, the Germanic hordes in Roman Empire, and ...the
Aryans in Indus Valley. What we have to discover is the grand cycle of
history, that which takes into account the whole of a particular societys
life - its arts, sciences, techniques, religions, philosophies, politics,
economics, all of which are intimately connected and interrelated. It has
to be all inclusive."(end quote)

There is much more, from thinking about history as continuous interveaving
of Culture (when innovation happens and uniqueness counts) through
Civilization (when rules and standards are made and there is a premium on
common and general ). The geometrical figure he likens this process to is
a spiral. This may remind those of you who were at Bretton Woods 92 of our
parting souvenir from the organisers - paperweight in glass with spiral
(and the metaphor Peter Senge was using at the time about development of
learning organisations). Moreover, de Riencourt shows that the
similarities existing in the development of all human Cultures, as well as
the profound psychological differences which separate them, point out the
problems faced by and solutions worked out by Indian Culture and
Civilization in countless fields - problems very similar to those we face
today, and solutions which we might well have to adopt in order to solve
them. Perhaps this was felt intuitively by all those who have since '60s
fueled the growth in interest in the Eastern philosophy. So much for a
taster from this volume. By the way, Amaury de Riencourt is French and
has applied this method to another of great old Asian cultures in "The
Soul of China".

Somewhat later, listening to a talk show I have heard about the second,
again for me unexpected, history book. It is "An Intimate History of
Humanity" by Theodore Zeldin and was a recent best-seller on both sides of
Atlantic, having started its life in France. I was captivated from
looking at the chapter headings onwards. It starts with:

"1 How humans have repeatedly lost hope, and how new encounters, and new
pairs of spectacles, revive them

2 How men and women have slowly learned to have interesting

continues with chapters of particular interest to this audience:

"8 How respect has become more desirable than power

9 How those who want neither to give orders nor to receive them can
become intermediaries

10 How people have freed themselves of fear by finding new fears

11 How curiosity has become the key to freedom"

and finishes with chapters like:

"24 How humans become hospitable to each other

25 What becomes possible when soul-mates meet"

The method used in the book is based on the Theory of Relevance. This is
a theory under development by the author's wife, Deirdre Wilson and her
collaborator (sorry don't know his name) a professor from Sorbonne in
Paris. Again, I believe this to be highly important to us in the learning
organisation community.

In addition, Prof. Zeldin (who, for those who may like irrelevant topical
connections, is a senior fellow at St Anthony's College at Oxford, the
same place where John Redwood, current challenger for the Conservative
Party leadership spent his post-graduate years) talks very eloquently
about the labours a lot of us engage in:

" Respect cannot be achieved by the same methods as power. It requires no
chiefs, but mediators, arbitrators, encouragers and councellors, or what
the Icelandic sagas call peaceweavers, who do not claim to have cure for
all ills, and whose ambition is limited to helping individuals to
appreciate each other and to work together even when they are not in
complete agreement, ensuring that disputes do not become suicidal. The
difficulty in the past has been that such people have often demanded too
high a price, and have ended up demanding obedience. (P.144)"

And later:

" The idea of catalysis gives intermediaries a new status. Previously,
they were mere links or hyphens, supplying needs felt by others. As
catalysts, by contrast, they have an independent existence and purpose:
they can create new situations and transform people's lives by bringing
them together, without having any arrogant pretentions themselves. To be
a catalysts is the ambition most appropriate for those who see the world
as being in constant change, and who, without thinking that they can
control it, wish to influence its direction. (P.155)"


"...in the 1990s ... the manager's job is to thrive in a chaotic world he
cannot control. He is at last reconciled to being, openly, an
intermediary. (p.158)"

He uses notions from cookery, chemistry, biology, physics, medicine,
European philosophy and literature (a lot of which is unfortunately not
available in English, or sadly out of print), archaeology, geography,
psychology, anthropology etc. and covers the full span of human
civilizations. Remember the earlier metaphor of a spiral - well, Zeldin
builds on it and tells us in totally unusual threads (as shown in the
titles) about the developments in most of the 32 Civilizations we have
known as humans from our beginnings. I have not seen these kinds of ideas
and approaches in other places, yet they put for me the endeavours we
undertake into a new context we appear to be seeking - large and small at
the same time, one where many spectacles help to see the picture from
different angles. If there is further interest to continue on this, I
would be glad to explain how he uses at the same time the microscope and
telescope and what new insights these perspectives bring.

Most of all, I wish to spread the thoughts of those who speak clearly and
express profound issues so accessibly. Just looking at the jackets of
both these books, another similarity in personal interests of the authors
leaps at me: both have been interested in and wrote about the women, their
place and the power in history. How can we, as a community of soul-mates
meeting in cyberspace, build effectively of this variety?


Lilly Evans

PS Did you know that the common tastes in food shows much more about us
being "one people" than other aspects! So, MacDonald's and beefburgers
have real transforming influence after all.

Dr. Lilly Evans, Dipl.Ing.
Expert Communication Systems  			"Tomorrow' leadership
Alheri House, Woodlands Road West			for today's companies"
tel. / fax:	  +44-(0)1344-842-418
e-mail 		100451.3477@compuserve.com

"The essence of history does not reside in recorded facts but in the thoughts, emotions and ideas of the human beings who have made it." Amaury de Reincourt, THE SOUL OF INDIA