The Ancient Roman Empire was one of the most powerful and influential cultures in our history. The system that created this culture was also extremely flawed and unsustainable. Roman law would allow only citizens and landowners to be the soldiers of its legions. This was before the time of Julius Caesar, during a time when Rome seemed to end one war just to begin another. This citizen-soldier business was a law that went unquestioned for generations though it inevitably became a cause that had lasting effects on policies, fueling political reforms and the fear induced hatred that was aimed at those who were trying to generate those reforms. You see, the Romans were very ambitious, especially in the upper classes. These ambitious upper class individuals would grow up looking at the sculpted heads and masks of their bloodline in the “ancestry room” of their family home, reminded daily of the glory and riches the men behind those faces brought to the family name. Growing up with that frame of mind taught them the only way to be anything was to be memorable for all time, like Alexander the Great. The thing to do with what you inherited back then was to gain more power and influence and the only way to get that power was to gain glory in battle. The young, ambitious elite would need to battle and conquer and acquire new territories to get famous enough to enter into politics, and the next generations would need to conquer even newer lands for glory to get their own turn in the spotlight. The more land the Romans conquered the more soldiers they would need. Like the recent housing bubble created from faulty loans, a soldier bubble was created. The new lands and the people in them were under Roman control but were not Roman citizens. This all resulted in a shortage of armed manpower because since they weren’t citizens and couldn’t be the soldier that was needed to watch over this newly acquired piece of property, they also couldn’t be the soldier to be used to gain new lands for the next generation of rich and power hungry elite. This simple law, designed to allow only true Romans a chance to gain glory and political influence, since they were the only ones who could fight for it, created an unsustainable system. A system that in many historians eyes ultimately led to the decline of the great Roman Empire.
As much as we like to think of us having free will, there is a major amount of our behaviors and personality that can be traced back to something else. Some of these parts of us were created from little things. For example, how do you eat your plate of food when it is in front of you? Do you eat one thing at a time? Do you go corn and then potatoes and finally chicken, for instance? Or do you eat a little bit of this and that, and finish the meal with one bite of everything left to savor? Chances are you have probably never paid much attention to how you eat; it’s just something ingrained into your subconscious. If you have thought about it, you most likely just chalked it up as quirky behavior and kept it to yourself. There is no evolutionary benefit to your personal system of eating but it is just one of the little habits you picked up at a young age and never looked back. I was reminded of this while at a friend’s house for dinner one night. The son and mom ate one thing at a time during the meal while the stepdad ate his all at once. The kid never knew where this habit of his came from, or even that it was a habit, he just thought it was normal to eat that way. The dad however, being an observer to the child’s development from the beginning knew first hand it was a copy from the mother that was picked up.
I’ve mentioned before that this is how children learn at a young age. They mirror everything they see and hear and experience. If you have kids yourself then you know exactly what I am talking about. The reason for this actually is an evolutionary benefit that was created for survival. In the same way babies are born with the ability to suckle on the nipple for nourishment seconds after being born, they have a natural ability to be little copy cats without even thinking about it. The times you laugh after hearing them repeat the swear word that just popped accidentally from your lips is a reminder of this. It is also what makes the “do as I say, not as I do” approach to parenting a little ineffective. The way you handle receiving an unexpected bill in the mail, the way you handle the stress of hosting a holiday dinner at home for the first time, the way you drink milk from the carton and not from a glass all gets recorded in the young child’s brain and saved for those moments later in their own life. My mom would take control of our arguments growing up by capturing the tension of the room within her personal pressure cooker and when it got too much would explode in a sudden burst, one level louder than the loudest person talking in the room. The same way a judge bangs his gavel, my mom would yell out for control of the energy in the room. She never explained this to me but I know it for a fact because the same trait showed up in me at around 26. Thanks for the lesson in peaceful negotiations Mom.
The environment we grow up in can be represented by the tree at the edge of a forest or a houseplant just out of reach of direct sunlight. It bends and leans toward the light in a way that it wouldn’t have to in a different spot. The shape of the plant grows differently because of where it is and what it is exposed to, just like us. The way we absorb what’s around us at an early age and have it manifest in ourselves later in life is similar to the habits we gain because of the way we are, the strengths and weaknesses we are born with also shape us as we grow. (I wanted another tree reference here, and that would lead to a joke I had chambered to go along with it, but I couldn’t quite pull it off right so I have to just move on from here) The classic example of these behaviors we have because of who we are can be shown with Napoleon Bonaparte. We say someone short has a ‘Napoleon complex’ and is angry, overcompensating for his height, any time they get pushy. The guy with the big truck may be overcompensating for something else that is short. The insecure people who are extremely controlling and the list goes on from here. My own example is my speech. As long as I can remember I felt like I had something important to say, like I needed to be heard and that I was more than what I appeared to be at first sight. It turns out I wasn’t the unique snowflake I thought I was. This is a feeling that most people who grew up with speech difficulties have. You feel like you have something important to say because you have trouble saying anything at all. It took me 29 years to find the source of this feeling within myself but when I did, it really wasn’t a bad thing.
I brought up history as the intro to this article because I’ve always enjoyed it. I never looked at it as just a bunch of dates, names and places I needed to remember for a test. I enjoy seeing the causes and effects ripple throughout time. The American Civil War can be traced back hundreds or thousands of years to the very first man who looked out on a black tribe in Africa and thought about taking them away in chains. Hitler is said to have had it out for Jews because a Jewish prostitute gave him syphilis as a younger man, though this could very well be just rumor, it’s still a good example of what I’m getting at. I like seeing the dots all connected and being able to trace from one event to a previous one. Maybe this was because I did so many connect the dot puzzles when I was a toddler and this same notion found in history was comforting to me on some subconscious level? That may be a little too deep for me to think about right now, but regardless of why; I do enjoy seeing the ‘patterns in chaos’ that is the growth of human civilization. These patterns and the way we see an event affecting the future throughout history is exactly what we have happening to ourselves. We are born with our minds set to ‘record’ and our brain uses this constant input to wire itself up over the next 20 years. When we become our grown adult versions we have all these preprogrammed settings and the more unaware of it we are, the more we just sort of run on autopilot. How do you handle getting an unexpected bill? How do you handle the stress of hosting a holiday dinner for the first time? Do you think it out logically and plan early for such events or do you go into overwhelming freak out mode after waiting until the last minute? The only difference between the two actions is the choice that you make. One choice is to plan how you want to do things and make it easy on yourself; the other is letting someone else’s actions from 20 years ago handle the situation for you. Though remember it is the ‘future you’ that has to live with the consequences of that choice, not the one who taught you what to do in the first place (read my post titled “We all have multiple personalities….Just not at the same time” to see what I mean by ‘future you’).
I said earlier in this post that we don’t have as much free will as we think we do. Our brains copy those actions around us early on and what we are born with shapes us into what we do and who we are, but that statement really isn’t fair. To be more accurate, we don’t use as much free will as we think we do. History repeats itself and by knowing that, we are supposed to look back on it and learn from it so we don’t make the same mistakes. If you don’t look back and study a little of your own history, then how will you know what to work on? If we do not practice awareness and think about our present state of mind, we are just letting the autopilot fly us on this journey of ours. We are letting someone else write our own history.