What are the three words you'd use to describe humanity?
If you think about it, the question itself is a very human thing to ask. We like pairs of three; we like numbers; we like definite answers to ambiguous questions; we like self-reflection. It's a human question to ask, to try to characterize ourselves in such a simplistic way.
These would be my picks, who we are through my eyes.
First, and above all, we are believers. We believe in dreams, in ourselves, in each other, and in the supernatural, and it's only because of our irrational ability to believe in often counterintuitive and sometimes literally impossible things that keeps us chasing the future and the possibility of dreams relentlessly. To believe is the strongest thing we can do, both together and alone, because belief in something distorts our perception of reality. It supercharges reality into versions of worlds in which we're more capable, and the naiveté of belief enables us to begin the daunting process of chasing ideals.
Belief is so strong, in fact, that the distortion of reality unites us in times of difficulty and divides us against ourselves, to fight for the values and ideas we believe in. Belief is the ultimate motivator, and the belief that a higher power is watching over us, or the belief that the bad will lead to the good, or the belief that good actions will be reciprocated wth good fortune… each of these things are distortions of realities. Regardless of their factual accuracy, many of us believe them because it empowers us to think that we can matter, because like a needle of dopamine, without belief, we're powerless to ourselves. Humanity is belief.
Second, we remember, and we love to remember. We record history, we tell stories, we look back through time, and we preserve culture. Through each of these actions, we're harkening back to some time in the past, to keep our past identities from slipping through our fingers. And it's a good thing we do, because the key distinguisher of humanity, the part of us that makes us who we are, is identity. And identity comes from memory, from our past experiences. Without our passion of remembering, we literally wouldn't be who we are.
More importantly in a grander view of humanity, our urge to remember is the only reason we got to where we are. The shoulders of giants would crumble before we could stand on them if we forgot to remember, and our histories would be much, much messier, had we forgotten to keep record of our collective story. Whether we're talking about our individual personal stories in our scrapbooks or the collective history of the world, we're here because we wanted to remember. Humanity is remembering.
Lastly, we are creators. If the two ideas above – belief and nostalgia – are the causes, creation is our effect. We take the motivations we have, the driving force of belief and identity, and we create something new out of nothing. We found businesses, create art, and spark ideas because of our beliefs and values, and because of what we remember from generation to generation. Creation, the process of taking a thought into reality, is the last thread that ties the three together for me.
If humanity suddenly lost the ability to create, if we forgot how to take the ideas we have and pull together people and tools to fashion it into reality, no matter how much we believed in our dreams and recorded our history, we'd be lost, stuck in a rut with no progress.
Looking back at the short list, it's strange to me how the three traits I found most important to our success are all ideas you'd associate not with science and exactitude, but with imagination and the capacity for thinking beyond reality. I think we're often too quick to attribute our technological prowess and our mastery of Mother Nature to the fact that we're logical and reasoned in our thought, but even more essential than that, I think we are unrealistic. We're never satisfied with the status quo and love to push through the uncertainty into the future.
That's what got us here, and that's what'll get us there. Our job, of course, is to figure out where there is.
If you enjoyed this piece, you might also enjoy my next post, Terminal impact.
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