I was sitting in my dorm room with 8 other men. Because I could not sleep, I decided to get out of my cot, pass the outdoor restroom and look across the river into El Paso, Texas. While El Paso is not the most cosmopolitan of towns, it is light years ahead of Anapra, Mexico. This dusty little shanty town that sits on top of an old dump is a few miles away from Juarez and one mile from El Paso, yet it might as well be one million miles away from the US border town. Our team built houses in this tiny hamlet. As a matter of fact, we built two houses in less than 50 hours. The people we built them for were so grateful, but I dare say that these homes would not meet anyone’s standards in the States.
What is odd about Mexico is its past. About 180 years ago, Texans became independent. Now, being raised in Texas, I know that Mexico was a great empire. They had a thriving economy and a strong army, but all that began to change when Texas became independent. While the States became its own empire, Mexico became trapped in the past and corruption ran rampant. Unfortunately for our neighbors to the south, their better days are behind them.
While I am not trying to demean Mexico, there is a point to be made that is tied to Peter Frankopan’s book, The Silk Roads. In this seminal work that I found fascinating, we see the rise and fall of many empires in the east. Frankopan’s great insight provides a new insight into history that this Westerner never realized. Let me explain.
Frankopan’s description of the eastern world is mind-boggling. He describes empires such as Rome, Ottoman, Mongol and the like as being radically global and fiercely innovative. These empires were motivated by trade, discovery and each seemingly would never end, at least to the people in power. However, history tells us that they all ended. While each empire in the East has contributed greatly to our modern empire, all of them are no more. They are simply pages in history. This is true of modern empires as well. Just within my own lifetime, we have seen the fall of the Soviets, the rise of China, the weakening of British Imperial Power, and the economic growth in emerging markets. There have always been empires, and there will always be the fall of great empires. Frankopan makes that abundantly clear.
As I walked in Mexico, I could see another great glimmering empire. It seems that this empire’s power will go on in perpetuity. However, we know that this simply will not be the case. Rome never could see life outside of Rome, the Mongols knocked on Europe’s door with dominance, Suleman the Great expanded the Ottoman Empire without resistance, but they all eventually failed.
If there is anything we can learn from Frankopan’s book, it maybe that we should not be seduced by our own hubris. The world was strikingly progressive long before the Western ideal arrived on the scene and will be long after the West is gone. As global leaders, we must understand that life does not begin and end with western modernity. If we understand this and walk in humility, then it is my belief that we can have a greater impact on society.