Every culture has one: the story of why we are here. These stories contain the most important stuff of our collective beliefs, which is why I think it’s time for a new story.
I’m most familiar with the story of Jesus, but there are many more with names like Buddha, Mohammad and Zeus. All of these stories are fictional in nature because until recently, our ability to tell stories of this magnitude were limited. Yet there’s something in them I find fascinating.
Beliefs are important because they influence the way we think about ourselves.
These may be stories of our ancient past, but they’re also powerful narratives intended to guide our behaviors. Beliefs are important because they influence the way we think about ourselves.
All major religions promote peace by holding individuals accountable to being good. While our definition of “good” may be subjective, nearly everyone agrees on the central tenants: be honest, don’t cause harm, and help others.
The only problem with the old narratives are that they aren’t true. And their insights into the human being are outdated, calling their credibility into question. They are ancient stories crafted when we knew far less than today.
There is a better narrative in which to believe. This narrative is based on the best of human knowledge: just the things we are most confident we understand. It communicates an important concept that we are capable of doing bad things and need encouragement to do good things. And best of all, it rescues the idea of personal growth from the spiritual arena. This narrative tells the “Story of Us” from a scientific perspective.
Here is my “New Story of Us”…
The New Story of Us
Humans are unique among all other life on this planet.
Our story begins on the plains of Africa, where we lived in small communities as highly social, intelligent mammals.
Our brains grew rapidly because intelligence and creativity are crucial to making and using tools, and tools make survival easier. Big brains are also great for developing complex social behaviors like language and rules, which made more cohesive communities… which also make survival easier.
Our exceptional social organization and tool development lead to stable sources for food. With ample food, communities grew larger than ever before. Political systems and economies were developed to coordinate complex daily lives.
Our environment began to change as food became more plentiful, our habitats more comfortable and our communication more complex.
As we removed ourselves from our evolved environment, a crisis developed. Though the need for survival behaviors were reduced, the behaviors themselves persisted, some even to today. Resources are hoarded, power is abused and kids are being raised in poor environments. In a way, we are still fighting for survival in the plains of Africa.
Our survival instincts are strong. When your interests are threatened, other interests matter less. All social problems, from poverty to injustice and greed to environmental damage, are a result of lingering survival behaviors.
Yet our capacity to think is also strong. We all want to live in peace and to be accepted by others. We can stay cool when things get stressful. We can adopt positive behaviors. And today we have a wisdom about ourselves and our world unlike anything we could have even imagined in the past.
Wisdom about ourselves gives us hope of a peaceful future.
Social progress in recent generations has provided a vision for our future. We’ve outlined human rights to be protected, worked to make society fairer, and provided help for people who need it. This progress forms an inspiring trend… a collective journey out of survival mode.
There will be a day when we complete that journey, fostering trust among all human beings on the planet. We will share like humans, not hoard like rodents. We will care for each other like families, not fight like wolves. And we will take care of our things and our environment like wise adults, not like selfish children.
The age of survival is coming to and end. It’s time to Thrive.
It’s rough… a work in progress. But this new story forms a scaffolding for true wisdom. We can see ourselves as individuals capable of self improvement. We can see the value of understanding our evolutionary heritage, our emotional and behavioral influences, and the interplay between ourselves and our environment. We can see all other humans as individuals who are also trying to get out of survival mode. And most importantly, we can see a trend – humanity wants peace, and we will achieve it.
I believe this is a crucial narrative for today.
People are fast discovering that religions don’t mesh well with what we’re learning about ourselves. We now expect more from our belief systems.
We are learning that we have caused horrible damage to our planet.
Meanwhile, our survival instincts continue to cause harm on the largest of scales. We are learning that we have caused horrible damage to our planet, and are still committing atrocities towards each other. And worst of all, we’re concerned that humanity is incapable or uninterested in changing.
Is humanity is a “virus of the planet“? Are we are incapable of living in peace? Is the world better off without us? Those who are pessimistic about our escape from the age of survival have good reasons.
Yet there is cause for optimism.
There are massive efforts taking place around the globe to balance our ecological impact. There are movements causing positive change in politics, economics and in society. As news headlines often reflect our worst, we run the risk of confusing problems with trends. The trend for peace among humans is clear: each generation we are surviving less and thriving more.
So what is the next step for humanity? How do we continue to build trust and elevate ourselves from survival mode? Can humanity truly live in peace?
Great questions. The search for their answers will surely unite all of humanity.
The most important question is this: do you believe in the new story of us?
If you do, then you may also agree that amazing things are coming: a humanity we are proud of. One that lives sustainably with and cares for its environment. One that is comprised of individuals living in peace with each other.
Now THAT’s a vision I can get excited about!