I love people and need human interaction to be happy. Unless one is a complete recluse, people are a part of our lives. Wherever we go, they are there. All kinds of people — those that we love and love us, those that we cannot be with for even a minute, and everything in between.
But, even after we come in contact with them, we know virtually nothing about most of the people we encounter. Worse yet, given that we spend most of our waking hours at work or school, we are literally forced to spend most of our time with people that we did not choose to be around.
As aptly noted in Art Linkletter’s popular television show from the 1950s and ’60s, people are indeed funny. That is funny, as in ironic, more so than laugh-inducing. Humans can bring happiness into our lives yet they can be as annoying as the bicycle rider who loudly proclaims his rights to the road while running every red light. People can bring enlightenment with the brilliance of their thoughts and they can confound with incredible stupidity.
People have been responsible for history’s great inventions, the finest in artistic expression, and the socialization of humanity’s burgeoning numbers on Earth. But people have also committed unimaginable atrocities against their fellow man and befouled the natural environment of our planet.
We fancy ourselves the greatest species to ever exist. People claim and assert total control over the animal kingdom as well as the rest of nature. And the Earth Domination League standings make clear: The Human Dynasty has been undefeated since Team Dinosaur became extinct. So then why have humans allowed, if not encouraged, endless wars, the yoke of poverty, the affliction of illness and disease and the proliferation of ignorance throughout the world? And then, even after we realize the harm we have caused, why do we keep doing it again and again?
It seems that Winston Churchill (with an assist from George Santayana) was correct when he said, “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”
By way of relatively recent examples, we learned — in early 20th Century America — that the consolidation of wealth and power into a limited number of dominant corporate entities, while yielding short-term benefits for their fortunate shareholders and lenders, can lead to catastrophic harm to the economy (e.g., “The Great Depression”) and to the social well-being of nations (e.g., the rise of Fascism and World War II).
We also learned — in the post-World War II era — that purportedly populist systems relying on expansive state control under a socialist regime (e.g., the Soviet Union, China and their allies) typically bring about the obliteration of human freedom and ambition. Yet, two decades into the 21st Century, we are again experiencing substantial global wealth consolidation and the reassertion of Communist regimes’ hegemony in Eastern Europe, Asia and elsewhere.
It is particularly galling when you think that historical knowledge is now so readily available to everyone. But, the simple, and probably most accurate, answer is that human beings have not been around long enough and, therefore, have not evolved enough to be better than we are.
Science teaches that modern human beings first appeared around 200,000 years ago in a universe that is nearly 14 billion years old. Thus, notwithstanding 2,000 centuries of evolutionary advancement, it is still relatively early in the process for humans. In contrast, cockroaches have been around for more than 200 million years. So, when you step on a cockroach thinking you have vanquished it and you raise your foot only to see it scamper away, it is because the roaches are a thousand times more evolved than you.
One concrete suggestion that could have an immediate, yet also a long-term, impact on humanity’s future would be to enhance our individual and collective commitment to acknowledging the difference between fact and belief. A fact is a statement that can be supported by both logic and documentation, without them being exclusive of each other. A belief is confidence in the truth or existence of something not susceptible to immediate, rigorous proof.
No one alive would dispute that the current assault on fact and truth is unprecedented in its scope, and it is particularly more alarming because of today’s finger-tip availability of accurate, factual information. But that information overload may actually be exacerbating the problem, given the unlimited amount of accessible content offering every possible permutation of what, in fact, is factual.
And with much of the internet’s content coming from unverifiable sources, amid ever-increasing uncertainty about whose version of the facts is correct, it has become less mentally exhausting for people to simply rely on our beliefs, which need not be proven, explained or justified to anyone. Our beliefs don’t even have to be factually accurate.
While beliefs provide comfort, they are oftentimes used to divide, subjugate and isolate people. Belief systems also provide distraction, if not perceived protection, from the fact of life’s ever-present burdens.
But, maybe we can make some progress in advancing the human evolutionary timetable if we can each, and collectively, focus and rely on facts in our interactions with people. And importantly, the acceptance of facts does not require the abandonment of beliefs, any more than it precludes our hopes and dreams.
Rather, such acceptance of facts will better promote the engagement of those with competing or disparate beliefs around a common understanding of each other, our circumstances and the challenges faced by all people, regardless of their beliefs.
Much of our current frustration and angst results from chronically disappointed expectations of ourselves and each other. Thus, while we will continue to evolve in our ability to address the problems affecting our world, communities and families, we should, for now, strive to give each other the benefit of the doubt. This may be easier said than done but, to amplify the still-valid Golden Rule, here are 10 suggestions to help us deal better with people (and nations) and their evolutionary shortcomings:
• Even the people we love, or want to love, have flaws, weaknesses and divergent views, so enjoy the good parts and tolerate the bad.
• As a matter of choice and will, let go of the disappointment and hurt caused by people’s inappropriate words.
• Accept the fact that others may actually be smarter or dumber than you believe you are.
• Communicate with people by speaking to them in person or on the phone, rather than by text message or email.
• Say “please,” “thank you” and “I’m sorry” more often than you do now. • Have and keep friends by being a friend — in good times and bad.
• Be open, and sensitive, to the other person and their perspective.
• If you get to have it your way more than 50 percent of the time, recognize that you are a winner.
• You cannot have too many family members; cherish all of them, even if they bring up religion or politics during Thanksgiving dinner.
• Rest assured that if you are taking yourself too seriously, you are likely to be the only one doing so.
If we can give each other (and ourselves) some slack, our lives and the world will be better than they are today. I wish you a happy and healthy 2020!