Friday, October 15, 2010

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World

I just started reading this interesting memoir of Genghis Khan. I am only about 20 pages into it, but for some reason it has started sparking insights about the ways in which a history-changing khan thinks differently from someone like me. I had to write it down and hence this post comes much before I actually complete reading the book :).

This post wont be a book review at all, but rather a ramble about my aha-moments as I read through the first few pages.

Let me start by giving specific examples and use that to drive home my generalized "aha!"s.

One of Genghis Khan's strategy to scare tribes and kingdoms into surrender was to brutally kill his captives in public - burning them alive, using them as cannon balls, just to list a couple. Now that is superlative of cruelty by any standards. But at the same time, he was highly supportive of teachers and doctors and craftsmen, to the extent that he did not even tax them! I wasn't able to wrap my head around the kind of person that he was - did he suffer from MPD? How else can one be both barbaric and thoughtful towards fellow beings? Just as I was about to dismiss him as a confused personality, I realized that his thoughts, principles and priorities were at a totally different plane than mine. With goals as lofty as wanting to unite the world for the greater good of mankind and to reduce tribal feuds, one cannot afford to focus on lesser principles that do not hold any value towards the bigger vision. If brutal murder of a few human lives is what it takes to reduce further bloodshed and is what takes him closer to his all-human-race encompassing dream, then so be it!

Genghis Khan also played on the religious beliefs of common man in his elaborate ploy to earn their loyalities and turn them against those he did not like. This obviously indicates that he himself did not believe in those religious beliefs. What do we do when we do not believe in the religious practices of our families or our clan? We crib about it, refuse to follow them, argue with the folks who hold these beliefs and talk about how we would abolish these baseless beliefs if we got a chance to rule the world. What does this leader do? - he quietly realizes that these religious beliefs or practices were created for a social reason; and uses them to his advantage without creating a hullaballoo about it. If that means he has to act like he holds the same beliefs as the people he is trying to manipulate, then so be it! Participating in a few rituals and following a few pratices that hold no meaning for him is a small price to pay for the large win that it gets him.

My ahas:-
- When we plan towards a goal, we plan for small wins along the way. When the Khan strategizes, his plans involve subjecting himself to small losses or discomfort along the way.
- Family and friends and life's experiences teach us certain principles and we follow these principles in our everyday life as we work towards our goals. The khan's goals defined his principles!

The difference between good and great seems so small, but yet so large.