Byron's Babbles

Explore And Heighten On President’s Day

Interestingly, the holiday we celebrate today is officially Washington’s Birthday, not President’s Day. In 1971 when Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Law, Washington’s Birthday (February 22) was moved to the third Monday in February. This put the holiday in between Abraham Lincoln’s birthday (February 12) and Washington’s. It also gave us another three day weekend – the intent of the Uniform Monday Holiday Bill. There was a push to change the name from Washington’s Birthday to President’s Day, but that did not pass – we just all call it President’s Day.

As I take a moment to reflect on this day, I remind myself of advice I give to others: study humans, not heroes. I believe this is important in teaching history and civics as well. While we have the advantage of hindsight when studying the past, always remember those who lived it, did not. One of my favorite authors, David McCullough, put it this way, “Nor was there ever anything like the past. Nobody lived in the past, if you stop to think about it. Jefferson, Adams, Washington—they didn’t walk around saying, ‘Isn’t this fascinating, living in the past?’ They lived in the present just as we do. The difference was it was their present, not ours. And just as we don’t know how things are going to turn out for us, they didn’t either. It’s very easy to stand on the mountaintop as an historian or biographer and find fault with people for why they did this or didn’t do that, because we’re not involved in it, we’re not inside it, we’re not confronting what we don’t know—as everyone who preceded us always was” (McCullough, February 15, 2005, in Phoenix, Arizona, at a Hillsdale College National Leadership Seminar on the topic, “American History and America’s Future.”). We need to remember that history was not created in a vacuum and could have gone a bunch of different ways.

As we reflect on our Founders and past Presidents we need to remember they were human beings, just like us, with flaws, sins, and both terrible and good qualities. We’ve had leaders do some terrible things and we need to study those things and call them out to make sure and not repeat them. We also need to learn, grow, and continue to improve and get better. In the world of improvisation there are the five syllables “explore and heighten.” This is where we usher in our imagination, where ideas are born, where our power finds its source, and where we discover what’s waiting for us. I believe this to be the genius of our American community. We know everything can and should be improved upon. So, on this day of reflection, let’s renew our resolve recognizing our errors of the past and continued improvement for making the world a better place for ALL.

“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.