Byron's Babbles

“What Might Have Beens” Are Risky

Posted in Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, History, Leadership, Leadership Development, Robert M. Gates by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on September 28, 2020

A comment made by Robert Gates in his great book Exercise of Power: American Failures, and a New Path Forward in the Post-Cold War World really made me think. He said, “Addressing ‘what might have beens’ in history is risky.” I wrote it in my notes so I could think about it and blog about it. I believe we need to study history in a way that doesn’t force us into being judgmental outside of the context the history was made in.

Everyone needs to study history. The past is filled with warning signs. We must be able to reflect on the events that built up to them, learn from mistakes made and resist and question if we see similar patterns emerging. By studying history we can identify when society is going down perilous and contribute toward getting back on the right track. This should not include continuing to place blame on individuals who are, in many cases, not even alive any more. We need to think of how to learn from the past not think in terms of “what might have been.”

Additionally, history cannot be studied by learning isolated events without understanding the events, personalities, and events that molded the personalities involved leading up to historical events. One point I believe Gates was making was that there had been no perfect leader, and never will be. Therefore, we need to study the positives and negatives, uplifting and inspiring, and chaotic and immoral. There are lessons, both good and bad, to be learned from the way our ancestors have interacted with other people who have different ways of living. Understanding how our leaders, communities, and past societies have acted, reacted, and integrated is key to humanity improving in the future.