How do we visualize the time which has gone by?
We coalesce the ‘ocean of years’ into a droplet of a name and splash it onto each others faces while discussing history. For example, when we talk about Egyptian Civilization we club the entire period of 3000 years long civilization into the names like Pyramids and Pharaoh; and move on boasting our knowledge of history. Compared to the modern civilization of ours, the Egyptian civilization lasted for more than five times the age of the civilization we are living in!
It has been always easy for people to make judgments on civilization, religion, wars, events or a person when they become past. It is at the same time, very much important to actually realize the entire period associated with them. This is what most of us fails to realize.
We should not reinforce the wrong perceptions about war.
People generalize some specific events associated with one’s history over its entire time period of time. It either influences our perception or changes the perception completely towards it. For example, you would find people saying that, “Christianity and Islam are at war for hundreds of years.” It is a general perception among people that Christianity and Islam are fighting religious wars for many years. But the fact is contrary to the perception.
The main reason for this misconception is the over-use of ‘crusades’ in relation to wars between Christians and Muslims. Assuming that Islam was started in In 610 CE (1408 years ago) and ‘crusades’ were fought from 1095–1291 (196 years); Islam and Christianity were in the religious war for just 13.92% of their common history. Moreover, they were not fighting all these wars continuously – year after year. But, during this period, there were sporadic wars with nine famous crusades.
The first crusade lasted for four years only. The eighth crusade lasted the least and ended within a year and the seventh crusade was the longest which lasted 6 years. Counting all these years for the entire ‘crusades’, it will add up to just 23 years! That means, for the remaining 1385 years, Christianity and Islam were at peace, which is 98.36% of their common history! They were at peace for the most of the period and thus these years should be reflective of their co-existence instead of 23 years of wars.
Had it been true that they fought wars for hundreds of years, the world today would have been different than what it is today. Mathematics might not had have the Algebra. Optics would still have known that eyes emit light and thus we see. The public libraries and hospitals would not have known to us. The medical works of Arabs were translated into Latin and decimated into Europe. The hand-in-hand work by Arabs and European led to great discovers and inventions. This should not have been possible without hundred of years of peaceful co-existence of Christians and Muslims.
Modern civilization: No civilization on the planet is eternal
Today we identify our civilization as a modern civilization. People love to be recognized as modern because it is associated with advancements in science and technology. It is associated with comfort and lavishness. People think that modern civilization is the most advanced of all and the civilization is here to stay. They think it is eternal. But one should remember that before the onset of this modern civilization which is just 518 years old, the much bigger civilizations have vanished into oblivion.
From its unification around 3100 B.C. to its conquest by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C., almost 30 centuries – ancient Egypt was the preeminent civilization in the Mediterranean world. In 332 B.C., Alexander the Great of Macedonia conquered Egypt marking the fall of Egyptian civilization.
Indus valley civilization from 2600 BC – 1900 BC, lasted for 7 centuries. They occupied over 386,000 square miles of territory—much more than their better-known contemporaries in Egypt and Mesopotamia. Around 1900 B.C., however, the Indus, also known as the Indus Valley or Harappa civilization, went into free-fall and finally disappeared.
Beginning in the 8th century B.C. till 5th century A.D., almost 13 centuries, Ancient Rome grew from a small town on central Italy’s Tiber River into an empire that at its peak encompassed most of continental Europe, Britain, much of western Asia, northern Africa and the Mediterranean islands. Roman Empire begins to fall by the fifth century A.D.
Lets suppose a person had to oversea the affairs of all the above civilizations. Would he had more to write about Egyptian civilization, Indus Valley civilization, roman empire or the modern civilization? Obviously 30 centuries period can not be compared to 5 centuries period. All the above civilization had a bigger existence period than the current age of the modern civilization. If those old civilizations can come to an end how can we claim our civilization to be eternal.
Fight for cultural dominance between the West and the East
Some people see the Indian and the Chinese culture inferior to the west. The western superiority of culture in our mind is relatively new but prevalent. The perception is just over 100 years old. It started after the modernization of the west in the early 19th century. Mostly aided by the industrial revolution. In a vague terminology, we can call this the golden period of the West in modern history.
In my opinion, 100 years are still less compared to the Indian Golden age of over 230 years. The period is noted for its achievements in the arts, architecture, sciences, religion, and philosophy. Similarly, the period of Chinese history, from roughly 1000-1450 C.E., is a period of stunning development in China. The golden period of Europe which is already fading is nothing compared to that of India and China.
The current western dominance in culture is due to their economic clout. Just because they have a better dominance in the economy does not mean their way of life is superior to those whose economic clout is low. Every culture is different and unique in its own ways. People must adhere to a culture and a way of life which gives them better opportunities for expressing them.
The fight over ‘eating’ using fingers and spoon is futile. Today, the economy of China is doing great. By 2030 she will overtake the economy of US. Does that mean eating with a chopstick would be right and eating with a spoon would be wrong in 2030? Every culture is unique and you should take pride in your own culture.
There are years of struggle hidden behind everyone’s success!
Andrew Carnegie was a self-made steel tycoon and one of the wealthiest businessmen of the 19th century. He was born in 1835 and his venture became the largest by the year 1889. We identify him by ‘Carnegie Steel Company’ and not by his struggle of 54 years.
J.K. Rowling born in 1965 was living in Edinburgh, Scotland, and struggling to get by as a single mom before her first book of Harry Potter Children’s Book series, was published. She became an international literary sensation in 1999. We know her by ‘Harry Potter Books’ and not by her struggle of 35 years.
Steve Jobs was born on February 24, 1955, in San Francisco. In 1980, Apple Computer became a publicly traded company, with a market value of billions of dollars by the end of its very first day of trading. We know Steve Jobs by ‘iPods’ & ‘iPhones’ and not by his struggle of 25 years!
All of us know at least one person whom we admire and idolize for their success. But most of us don’t know how long they were unsuccessful and unknown. Almost all successful people have had a major part of their lives uncelebrated. It is important to realize one’s success in two parts. First, the long years of being unknown and secondly, a few years of being successful.
What do you want your life to be defined in?
Therefore, when we are in a situation where we need to make a judgment on an issue or a person or an event. We must first analyze its past. The past which is bigger than the present and is strewn on a time-line moving backward. Only then we would be in a position to pass judgments. It is always better to realize that nothing is eternal, not even civilization. It is always better to give importance to hundreds of years of peace than a snap of war. It is always better to learn from someone’s struggle than to envy a snap of success. A moment cannot define a history. It cannot define anyone completely.