Shifting Consciousness About the Power and Influence of History

Personal history, social history, world events history all have a strong influence on our worldviews, how we come to see, understand and experience the world. When taught, history is most often presented as a series of events – wars, elections, disasters – or singular events – Bloody Sunday, the march from Selma to Montgomery, Wounded Knee, Stonewall Uprising, Trail of Tears – and not as conditions of society or states of our public consciousness.

When history is offered as events, it becomes easy to remove (or add) events to history books that changes what we learn, like is being done now in Texas and other states. When we teach history as events, we don’t feel that history viscerally, in our bodies. However, when we read history that is not sanitized or that is written by black, brown, red, or yellow writers we often gain very different perspectives and emotions about history and about these events.

One outcome of presenting history as a series of events is that as readers, or watchers of national news, we see racism, genocide, discrimination and, currently, police shootings of unarmed black men through the lens of events and not through the national consciousness that underlies what is happening within our society or our country.

One powerful way to shift our consciousness about history is to visit the actual places where historical events happened and sense into the stories of the people who were there. Recently, I went to Montgomery and Selma, Alabama to visit important sites and memorials to the civil rights and voting rights movements, to hear directly from people who experienced the segregation that existed there within my lifetime (and in many ways is still subtly and sometimes not so subtly alive today). I wanted to learn more about the history of slavery and racism in our country. I have also visited WWI and WWII cemeteries in Europe and saw firsthand the thousands of lives lost there. I have been to Wounded Knee to try and sense into what happened in 1890 and 1973. Each of these experiences touched an emotional rawness in me that stories in history books written by white authors have not.

The Edmund Pettus Bridge where Bloody Sunday took place.

Another way to shift consciousness is to take time to reflect and, if it is your way, to write about what have been the influences in your life that have shaped how you see and experience the world around you. History is one of the dimensions of the Worldview Intelligence Six Dimensions Framework. When working with clients we often ask program participants to do an exercise that invites them to identify influences in their life and then select two or three to explore more fully before joining together in small group conversations about what they may have discovered. This exercise, this experience, is quite impactful for participants.

But now I wonder, could we or should we invite participants into a more visceral exploration of what they have identified as significant influences on their worldview. To do more than intellectually think about their history, to feel it in their bodies. This is a question I will be exploring personally and with my partner Kathy Jourdain as we continue to expand and deepen the power of Worldview Intelligence.

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