While we were going on religious crusades, torturing non-believers, exterminating cultures that conflicted with our own, killing the enemies of God, burning books and obstructing the preservation of history, they were welcoming all religions into their cities. While we were butchering, they were inviting scholars, scribes, engineers, craftsmen, musicians and priests of all creeds into the heart of their culture, and allowing their ideas to take root and cross-pollinate.
The Mongols under the direction of Genghis Khan were an incredible people. They built an empire larger than the Roman empire, in a fraction of the time. They implemented the first law that gave total religious freedom to each of it’s citizens. In a time where the rest of the world was revelling in cruelty, they were executing fewer criminals than modern states like China and the US.
And we call them savages?
But what made this all possible? What allowed the Mongols to be guided by such a light when the rest of the world was plunging itself into darkness? A key component is found in this passage from Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World:
“At no single, crucial moment in his life did he (Genghis Khan) suddenly acquire his genius for warfare, his ability to inspire the loyalty of his followers, or his unprecedented skill for organising on a global scale. These derived not from epiphanic enlightenment or formal schooling but from a persistent cycle of pragmatic learning, experimental adaptation, and constant revision driven by his uniquely disciplined mind and focused will.”
There was no single point. The development of the Mongols was a process, a “persistent cycle.” It was something that was continued every day, not just on occasion. They sought new ideas and best practices with the same regularity that we eat and defecate.
You may not be a Genghis Khan forging a great empire. But are you not trying to build something bigger than yourself? A life? A family? A relationship? A career? If you are, then you can learn from Genghis Khan and the Mongols.
- What am I doing today that will make me better than yesterday?
- When was the last time I changed my mind?
- When did I last examine ideas that contradicted and conflicted with those I hold dear?
- How have I grown over the last few months?
- Why do I want to change?
I could go on posing such questions. But that would be ineffectual. These are questions you have to put to yourself when no one else is looking. When the only person there to answer to is yourself.
But keep this in mind as you ask these hard questions:
The Mongols built their empire hundreds of years ago. Their ideas and philosophy were a catalyst for the European Renaissance. But they were not overly learned. They grew up on the naked planes of the Mongolian steppes, riding horses and learning to fight. Yet they showed more humility, ingenuity, and receptivity to ideas and innovation than many today.
So, with all the resources you have at your command, what’s your excuse for not getting better?