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How History Shapes Our Future


This week's paper ran a story on the 40+ San Francisco schools to be renamed since they hold the names of historical figures that participated in what many feel is unjust, demoralizing, and racist behavior.


This idea started a great dialogue with my family. Do we negate historic symbols, monuments, or names because they are tied to past wrongdoings, or because they conjure up fears and disgust?


Do the acts we participate in today which later are deemed unjust or immoral as times change negate all the good we have offered? I wonder if “context” plays a part, or does that not matter? If one owned slaves today I think we would agree it is egregious but what if that was the norm of the times? It certainly does not negate the act but certainly asks you to consider context, social norms, and ignorance when the present day moral compass is not around for comparison. Does that matter?


It is easy to focus on the negative and miss the positive. It is the slow integration of insight and behavior change that leads to better decisions and wisdom over time. Isn't it this very process that defines evolution and the growth mindset? Isn't it our responsibility as leaders to believe in others' evolution and to hold hope for positive change?


In an article from CBS news historian Harold Holzer makes an intriguing statement, "I think there's a danger in applying 21st-century moral standards to historical figures of one or two centuries ago," he said. "We expect everyone to be perfect. We expect everyone to be enlightened. But an enlightened person of 1865 is not the same as an enlightened person of 2021.”


As leaders it is important to have grace, not react out of fear but consider context and lean into understanding others perspectives. Stepping back to appreciate how the issue is part of something greater and learning the context is vital. To be self aware and consider what is your reaction vs. what is thoughtful consideration.


If we take down all of the names and statues of our past how will that shape our future? We learn from our past, good and bad. We can see our growth and blind spots, we can acknowledge our misgivings and strive to be better and stronger.


Years ago I worked with a team who absolutely could not pull together and make forward progress because they continually focused on a bad hire nine years prior (fixed mindset). They collectively fueled the stagnancy of success despite the many years passed. I was struck by how unaware they were of all of the missed opportunities, they were all unconsciously keeping each other in a rut of failure. History had paralyzed their thinking and stolen years of creativity, wisdom, and insight. As soon as they chose to acknowledge the past and consciously let it go this team took off! The weight was lifted and success began.


My hope is that the lessons we learn from failure are used to propel us forward. To build strength, insight, and curiosity. Stay humble with your humanity and use these moments in your life as teaching moments to make better decisions going forward, not for excuses for failure.


To learn and grow because of your mistakes, not despite them.


Every situation holds a gift and opportunity, sometimes easier to see than others! In this situation it is the “gift of knowledge” as explained in Positive Intelligence. This speaks to the insight and knowledge that is gained from difficult situations. It is that insight, if integrated and appreciated, that will transform your relationships and perspective into positivity and success.


My Challenge To You:

  • What action or event are you holding on to negatively, despite it being in the past? Can you shift your mindset and see the learnings and insight? Have you integrated those lessons into your current thinking?

  • What past behaviors, thoughts, or relationships still have a negative hold on you? Are you holding on to the negativity or are you ready to release the past and gain knowledge from the insight? Can you take one step closer to inner reconciliation by way of a letter, a phone call, or a simple declaration of forgiveness to yourself or another.

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