"Every society produces its own cultural conceits," Jack Weatherford wrote in "The Secret History of the Mongol Queens," "a set of lies and delusions about itself that thrives in the face of all contrary evidence. The Mongols believed that they could not be completely defeated."
It makes me wonder what cultural conceits we might have in our society.
The name Genghis Khan still resonates with power and victory today, and brings thoughts of terror. Born into a nomadic tribe in Asia early in the 12th century, he became the first to unite the nomadic tribes in his area into an empire, the Mongolian Empire. He accomplished this unification, which had been thought of as impossible, creating one empire out of various factions and tribes. Once the tribes were conquered, he wove them together and strengthened their ties with an intricate web of alliances and marriages.
"Secret History" notes that Genghis Khan would marry his daughters to the nobility of other tribes. Once his daughter was ensconced, the new son-in-law would go into battle with Genghis Khan's army. His daughters ruled while their husbands were away.
Often their husbands did not return home from the fight.
The nomadic life was one of travel and transition. The homes, called gers, were tents that could be rapidly put up and taken down. "A child of the steppe was trained for survival and for constantly making vital decisions," Weatherford writes. "Every morning, the herder steps out of the ger, looks around, and chooses today's path according to the results of last week's rain, yesterday's wind, today's temperature or where the animals need to be next week."
This focus on daily survival required that those in leadership make good decisions rapidly, in an ever-changing environment. There was no rote process and no assured outcome, rather a fluid intuitive ability to take the best path at any given moment.
"The quest for survival is the same for each day, but the path is different. The herder looks across a landscape of perpetual possibility. Wrong choices inflict terrible pain. The child of the steppe learns to correct those wrong choices quickly or else die."
Their environment was harsh and hard. Life was not easy.
This changed for the Mongol leadership as they conquered Asia and moved into cities in China. No longer required to use their wits daily to survive, their nomadic skills declined.