One can learn a lot about a society by the content of our advertising and nowhere is that content more revealing than during the ads played during the Superbowl. By examining the ads on which companies spend the most money, we see that Americans value the concept of family, even if we don’t all agree on what a family is. One might also observe that we like to eat and drink things that are not especially healthy and we’re okay with that. We also might be a little obsessed with making sure we protect our money as much as possible.
Standing out above all other themes this year (2019) was the presence of robots in various forms. The number of advertisers utilizing robots in their spots was larger than it has ever been and people noticed. Brands such as Sprint, Michelob Ultra, Kellogg’s, TurboTax, Skechers, and SimpliSafe involved some form of human-like robots in their ads. Others referenced artificial intelligence without directing showing robots.
Why all these ads about robots and why is the connotation regarding robots always negative? Because robots scare us. Our collective fear is so substantial that there is an actual not-for-profit organization that lists their primary cause as, “preventing threats to humankind brought about by humans. The greatest threats to humanity lie in technologies humans have invented.” No, I”m not giving you the link because whoever is behind that organization is as scary as any robot.
I’ve written about artificial intelligence before so I’m not going to repeat myself. The greater issue is that our fear of robots substantially stems from a global fear that humanity itself is in danger. For some, it is a fear that we’ve destroyed the environment beyond a point of reclamation. Some are convinced that we need to serve the correct deity, though no one agrees on which deity that is. There are still others, though increasingly in the minority, who fear that racial intermingling is going to doom the species.
Medically, the three biggest threats to humanity are obesity, malnutrition, and global warming. From a more direct science perspective, nuclear war, biologically engineered pandemic, superintelligence, and nanotechnology threaten to undermine human existence. Other media sources, who perhaps have a little less expertise in the matter, list the failure of Democracy, Cyberwarfare, and rising financial inequality as our biggest concerns. None of those analyses is incorrect. In fact, one could likely create a reasonably list of anywhere from 30-50 credible and reasonably immediate threats to the existence of humanity without once invoking any form of conspiracy theory.
However, when we dig down into every one of these potential crises we find a common thread among all of them: human failure. We are the biggest threat to our own existence. Either our inability to recognize problems in time to stop them or our refusal to acknowledge problems that are inconvenient are, hands down, the most likely cause of any extinction event the human species faces. We are, in the most real way, our own worst enemy.
The most sensical way, and perhaps the most difficult, to guarantee the perpetuation of our species is easily stated: be better humans. We need to think better, we need to act better, and we need to respond to others better than we currently do. Selfishness, hate, greed, racism, nationalism, and aggression are all traits we need to address and minimize among ourselves first and then our children.
Such an approach makes so much sense that one would think we would have already started down that path. However, one has to consider that the world’s major religions, every last one of them, have tried for millennia to convince humans to live better, to do better, and all it’s done is create a backlash that led to too many wars. If our churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques can’t convince us to be better people, then what can?
The answer is that no external force is going to successfully change anyone’s behavior. We aren’t going to do it for the priests, we’re not going to do it for a deity with whom we feel no connections. If there is going to be any significant change in our behavior, the kind that might actually stand a chance of saving the human race, we have to do it for ourselves.
Our motivation cannot be anything less than the absolute survival of humanity, not within 100 years or so, but guaranteeing that our own children won’t meet an untimely death due to the mistakes are making right now, at this very moment.
My ten-year-old and I were recently watching the 2004 movie, The Day After Tomorrow, where dire warnings of eventual global disaster suddenly take place with surprising and deadly speed, wiping out nearly all the Northern Hemisphere. At ten, my scientifically-minded child is already too well aware of the dangers of global warming and doesn’t understand why we’re not making more of an effort to stop it. He looks at me and asks, “Why are we not using more wind and solar power? Why is no one stopping global warming?”
I don’t have good answers for him. I can pass along excuses such as government inattention and mass denial, but there’s no reason in those excuses other than we, as humans are choosing to actively participate in the demise of our own species. We refuse to see that we are not invincible, that there is no Superman coming to save us, and that we are the villains in the narrative of our story.
So, what and how do we change? Certainly, it is not an easy task before us if we think we can change the mindset of all humanity. In fact, we know before we start that such a task is impossible. What we have to focus on is changing ourselves, one person at a time. You change who you are in hopes that your example inspires others to do the same. One teaches their children a different way and hopes they’ll influence their peers.
There are no guarantees in this world and the skeptic in me thinks that there’s no way enough people change in time to avoid certain disaster. Yet, so long as there is even a fraction of a chance, we must make that effort, deliberately, forcefully, and with the certainty of knowing that if the species does perish, the blame falls on those who didn’t listen.
Making A Shift In How We Think
We tend to not give any consideration to how we think. For many of us, the concept has never come up in conversation or study before. We tend to be of the opinion that thinking and brain activity are the same things and that we have no real control over either—they just happen. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Noted psychologist Dr. David Dunning, as in the Dunning-Kruger effect, is a strong proponent of “Intellectual Humility.” The concept is designed to avoid becoming a victim of the Dunning-Kruger effect by acknowledging that we might be wrong on any given subject, including those, perhaps especially those that we feel certain about championing. Because one doesn’t know when they fall victim to Dunning-Kruger, the only real way to avoid falling into that trap is being continually open to the possibility that we don’t know what we think we know. Here’s the graph Dunning uses to illustrate the problem:
If that sounds confusing, it works a little like this: Let’s say that one recognizes a repeating pattern in their work. No matter what else they might do differently, that repeating pattern always occurs in exactly the same way every time. Therefore, they easily become convinced that the pattern must take place every time.
Then, someone else comes along and refutes the idea saying that they’ve achieved the same results without the repeating pattern, doing everything else exactly the same. Our first response, almost always, is to defend what we think we know. We don’t want to see evidence to the contrary. Rather, we tend to insist al he more dramatically what the pattern must exist and that if someone isn’t getting the pattern then they’re doing something wrong and not getting exactly the same results. We dig in, hard. Welcome to the world of Dunning-Kruger.
This method of thinking tends to dominate every other area of thought and action in our lives. We respond to our emotions based on what we think we know. We respond to others based on what we assume to be correct. Our choices of how to set priorities, our perspective, and what actions we might take are all dependent upon the basic belief that what we think we know is true. Therefore, when what we think we know isn’t factual or isn’t honest, our resulting actions are the wrong ones and are most likely to be detrimental to our survival.
How, then, does one adjust their thinking so that we avoid finding ourselves in the Dunning-Kruger zone? Here are some suggestions based on Dunning’s research.
- A lot of what we see and conclude about the world is authored by our brains. You’re reading that correctly. Our brains can’t be trusted. Because they are doing so many things at once, our brains look for shortcuts and leap to assumptions while telling us that assumptive decision is factual or true. This creative thinking takes place from the moment we’re born. Our brains assume the first faces we see and the voices we hear are our loving parents. While that might be true a majority of the time, it’s certainly not true all the time. When we realize that our brains tend to make up shit, then it becomes a bit easier to admit that what we believe could be wrong.
- Be willing to question everything you think you believe. This goes beyond religious matters, which is where a significant number of people tend to start with their questioning. Our beliefs about science and the natural world, our beliefs about human origins, race, and gender, our beliefs about how the human body functions, how we interact not only with each other but with other species, our beliefs about how we consume and digest food—almost every foundational principle is up for questioning and that questioning is absolutely necessary. Consider that much of what was considered conventional wisdom a mere 50 years ago has now been proven false. If we don’t question what we believe, we continue being wrong.
- Accept that we don’t know everything about everything. Dr. Dunning stated in a recent interview, “To get something really right, you’ve got to be overly obsessive and compulsive about it.” He emphasizes that the most consequential decisions we make, such as whether to buy a house, who to marry, whether to have children, are all decisions we don’t make very often and therefore are likely to know the least about. Therefore, what we think we know about those subjects is more likely to be wrong. Those are the situations where we should be looking for help from someone who is obsessively compulsive about that area and consider basing our decisions on their advice.
- Get comfortable saying “I don’t know.” Turns out, admitting that we might not know something is extremely difficult for many of us, especially in areas where we’re convinced we’re correct. We like being the smart one in the room and we’re afraid that admitting we’re not certain about the answer to a question might make us look less intelligent. However, there are a vast number of times when “I don’t know,” is not only the most intelligent answer, it’s also the safest. When we admit that we’re not certain about an answer we open everyone up to a deeper consideration of what is the correct answer. When we give an incorrect answer, however, we leave ourselves open to devastating consequences.
Dr. Dunning concludes, “a lot of the issues or problems we get into, we get into because we’re doing it all by ourselves. We’re relying on ourselves. We’re making decisions as our own island, if you will. And if we consult, chat, schmooze with other people, often we learn things or get different perspectives that can be quite helpful.
“An active social life, active social bonds, in many different ways tends to be something that’s healthy for people. Social bonds can also be informationally healthy as well. So that’s more on a top, more abstract level if you will. That is, don’t try to do it yourself. Doing it yourself is when you get into trouble.”
Dunning makes it sound easy, but changing our base method of operating, how we make common, everyday decisions, is quite challenging. Still, this is the kind of challenge we must face if we want to save humanity.
Adjusting How We View Ourselves
The first and most critical narrative we have to challenge is our own. Our brains are at their most creative when determining what to emphasize about our personal history. Generally speaking, the bad stuff tends to be overemphasized and blown way out of proportion while positive moments are minimized and perhaps even forgotten. As a result, we walk around not only with a generally negative view of ourselves, but a negative view of everyone else. We base our responses to critical challenges on histories that are inaccurate.
Identifying the fallacies in our personal histories is the first challenge. We’ve been telling ourselves the same story for so very long we’re not aware that there is an alternative. Dr. John Sharp, MD, a psychiatrist with over 20 years experience, explains in his book, The Insight Cure: Change Your Story, Transform Your Life, some ways in which we might uncover some of the inaccuracies we’ve been telling ourselves by asking some rather introspective questions.
Fill in the blanks. “If I break a promise to myself, I feel ______________.” “When someone ignores me, I feel _____________.” “When I have a big fight with someone I care about, I feel ___________.” These questions are important because our greatest inaccuracies tend to become our defaults when faced with situations that are difficult and/or disappointing. Identify the emotion and then examine its source. Why do you have that emotional response? What do you think happened that created that reaction for you?
We can also examine what we consider to be absolutes. Again, fill in the blank. “I always _________.” “I’m always _______.” “I’m never _________.” There is a general rule among psychotherapists that absolutes are never absolute. We create habits and repeat them and those habits are most often a historical response to a negative event we desperately want to avoid repeating. Yet, if our memory of that negative event is inaccurate, then our response is inaccurate as well.
This can be difficult work because when we begin confronting these periods in our personal history our emotional lives can become chaotic. While professional help is certainly not required to address these issues, if one sees that re-examining one’s past becomes too interruptive of one’s present, then by all means, please let a professional help you with this process. There’s no shame in doing the hard work it takes to correct these errors.
When we begin considering these moments in our past, it is important that we discard our previous beliefs and attempt to approach them with fresh eyes. Many of our negative beliefs about ourselves, such as why one’s accomplishments don’t really matter, or that it is impossible to meet anyone’s expectations of you, are the result of relationships we had as children. Therefore, our perspective of those situations is that of a child, not an adult. When we look at them through fresh and more experienced eyes, chances are we’ll see those relationships and those events in a different light.
Where we can, and where it is appropriate to do so, getting cooperation on past events, relationships and circumstances
Unfortunately, by the time we discover we need the answers to those questions, those resources may no longer be available to us. I can only guess why my parents pushed me to attend a university I really didn’t want to attend, leaving me thinking that my choices don’t matter. As we get older, finding corrections to our versions of history becomes difficult, making it all the more important to examine those events now.
Dr. Sharp also emphasizes that as we go through the process of correcting our personal narratives that we avoid the temptation to emotionally beat ourselves up over decisions we made in the past. Forgiving ourselves for mistakes we made in the past is one of the most difficult challenges one faces at any point in life, but also one of the most necessary. Carrying around that guilt in no way serves us now. This not only applies to things we did as children but just as much to mistakes we made last week.
As we begin correcting these events from our past it becomes equally important to replace negatives with positives. This is one area where our brains tend to work against us. Negative events tend to carry stronger emotions. FInding things we can feel happy about may seem trivial and unimportant but they are the key to changing our personal narratives. Looking for the unsung moments of your life, such as the perfect attendance in second grade or that one time you beat an older sibling in a foot race, even if they did let you win. Those are the moments that prove you can do good things, that you are not a walking disaster, that you have value. Whether they be big moments or small moments, latch onto every one of them and make sure they become hot spots within your personal backstory.
Finally, we have to take all those old beliefs, all the stuff that wasn’t true and drop kick them into oblivion. We cannot afford to let the trash sit in a closet where it rots and smells up everything. Take it out, symbolically, dump it where it can’t be found, and never give it another thought. Let that negative opinion of yourself waste away on its own.
How does all this “me work” help humanity? By giving us a more solid, positive foundation from which we can examine the needs of the world. Negative people rarely find positive solutions. When we believe in ourselves and what we are capable of doing, then we can look at the human condition compassionately and find better answers to the challenges that face us.
Challenging Our Own Emotions
Emotions. Ugh. They seem to constantly be getting in the way and the more we try to control them the more, it often seems, they end up controlling us. Our emotions play such as strong role in our lives that much of the emoji alphabet we use to communicate online revolves around the wide range of emotions we all feel.
Right off the bat here, let me be clear that when I talk about challenging our own emotions I’m not talking about those related to serious mental illness such as depression and anxiety. Those challenges are fueled by more than emotions and cannot be addressed sufficiently by simply adjusting how we approach them. Mental illness requires professional help and one shouldn’t be afraid to pursue that course of treatment.
What about fear, though? Or the dread we feel when we have to speak in public? Or the worry we feel in the pit of our stomach when the school bus is ten minutes late? Or the anger we feel at the allegation someone “stole” a job we didn’t have and for which we weren’t qualified? Those are the emotions that challenge our existence as a species because of the impactful way they influence how we respond to situations and circumstances, both those happening to us and those separate from us.
Lisa Feldman Barrett is a neuroscientist who has studied emotions, their causes, their sources, and their influence for several years. She and her team have compiled all the data from multiple studies done all around the world and come to this conclusion: emotions are not hard-wired functions of our brain and can absolutely be controlled by understanding what causes them.
This area of neuroscience is relatively new but it is quickly upending previous thoughts on the subject. For many years, scientists were of the opinion that emotions were like switches in our brain that were turned off or on based on certain biological stimuli. After studying the preponderance of evidence, though, Dr. Barrett and her team realized that the conventional wisdom simply wasn’t true. She writes:
“Emotions are your brain’s best guess of how you should feel in the moment. Emotions aren’t wired into your brain like little circuits; they’re made on demand. As a result, you have more control over your emotions than you might think. That’s because your brain’s guesses are forged from three “ingredients” that are with you all the time: your body, your surroundings and your past experience. The good news is that you can exert some control over these three ingredients and, to a certain extent, change your emotions. Getting a handle on your emotions can be tough at first, but like any skill, it becomes easier with practice.”
By changing what our body is feeling, our surroundings, and our understanding of past experiences, as we’ve already discussed, we can change the emotions that our brain feeds to us. For example, getting sufficient rest, drinking the necessary amount of water so that we’re sufficiently hydrated, being more intelligent about when, where, and what we eat, and getting a reasonable amount of exercise for our age and circumstances are going to result in a more balanced set of emotions than if we’re tired, dehydrated, or experiencing intestinal issues from consuming too much salt or grease.
Look at your surroundings. Does clutter leave you feeling irritated? Perhaps there are noises one considers disruptive and unnecessary, such as a car outside revving its engine, or bad weather that causes increased anxiety or worry. Do the constant distractions of a cell phone leave you feeling angry? Consider what you can safely turn off for a while, perhaps changing locations and working from a different space, or possibly using noise-canceling headphones to shut out external noises. We likely have more control over our surroundings than we realize.
We’ve already discussed changing how we view the past, but it is also important to recognize when an event from our history is influencing our emotions right now. For example, a friend lost her father and in feeling sympathy for her, I also felt the sadness of losing my own father several years ago. How do I keep that sadness from affecting my activities? For me, it’s a matter of taking a moment, thinking of a pleasant memory with my father, then moving forward with the rest of my day. Emotions connected to our past are admittedly more difficult, but again, the more we focus on positive rather than negative events in our lives the less we are likely to be disturbed by those emotions.
There are moments when it seems as though our brains are working against us. After all, it is making guesses as to what is appropriate and sometimes those guesses miss in dramatic fashion. Have you ever laughed at the most frightening scene in a movie? I once saw a person completely break down sobbing because someone pointed out a piece of lint on their blazer. Our brains don’t always guess correctly and in all those moments where our emotions are challenging, we have to challenge right back. Stop, consider why our brains took us in a specific emotional direction, and then take the steps to change what we’re feeling at that moment.
We have more control here than we’ve been taught. Emotions are not hard-wired and they don’t get to run the show. If we are to save humanity, we have to understand our emotions and stop letting negative feelings lead us toward regrettable actions.
Managing Our Priorities
By now, one should be getting the impression that it is the little things in how we live our lives that ultimately affect whether our species survives. There is no magic pill we all can take, there is no genetic engineering that solves our future problems. At the very root of all of humanity’s problems are basic life issues of how we think, how we view our past, and how we feel when we’re making decisions. If we are to avoid making the decisions that lead to our extinction then this is where we have to start, not out crying against the takeover of AI-controlled refrigerators.
As we begin to adjust our internal thought processes one of the first external challenges becomes what we consider to be most important in our lives, where we are going to spend the most time and energy. Historically, the tendency has been to look to time management experts and leadership experts to provide us with tricks or tools so that we’re getting the most out of our day and managing our lives effectively. Inc. magazine even published a list of the top 50 time and leadership experts.
However, for all the tools we have, especially on our phones and digital devices, for all the books that have been written and the countless lectures that have been given, is any of it making an impact beyond putting cash in the pockets of the “experts?” I’ve read Stephen R. Covey and Tom Peters and Dale Carnegie and Guy Kawasaki among many others and while there were some decent concepts among them, none of them add any more time to the day. We still have 24 hours and at least eight of that needs to be spent sleeping, so we effectively only have sixteen hours.
I am increasingly convinced that attempting to “manage” time is entirely the wrong approach. Instead, when we think in terms of saving humanity, perhaps Rory Vaden, author of Take The Stairs has a better concept: consider what is significant and manage priorities accordingly. Vaden’s concept is that by examining how important and impactful our actions are, even if that involves procrastination, we do more, see greater achievement than we would by making lists. To achieve this perhaps higher level of priority management, Vaden asks four questions that I have taken the liberty to modify slightly for our conversation here,
- Does this activity need to be done at all?
How much of what we do doesn’t need to be done at all? I know, we like to think that everything we do is important, but when we really consider the impact and importance of our activities, turns out there are probably some things we can eliminate. Take, for example, trolling on Twitter, sifting through 3,000 cat memes, or trying to cut someone down to size in an online forum. Anything that does not have a positive benefit is up for elimination.
The trick here is to stop making excuses for the stupid things we tend to do. Trolling people one doesn’t know isn’t necessary, it’s rude and ultimately contributes to the decline of the species. Mindlessly wandering through other people’s pictures is likely best replaced with taking our own. Instead of tearing people down, if there is a good reason for engaging them at all, we do better to find ways to be encouraging and supportive. When we find someone ignorant, they do not benefit from being told they are ignorant. Rather, one does better to find a way to teach.Eliminating nonsense gives us more space to do things that make a difference.
- Can repetitive activities be automated?
Doing the same thing over and over, whether it’s part of a routine or a weekly or monthly obligation, we tend to give too high a priority to tasks that require us to do exactly the same thing each time we do them. When we recognize such routines, one does well to consider whether there is a way of streamlining that process so that it doesn’t require as much of our attention, if any at all.
For example, when I am working on a set of photographs that need to have a consistent tone across each image, I often create what is labeled an “action,” essentially a script of steps for Photoshop to take to achieve a specific tone or effect. While it takes a moment to set up the action the first time, once it is in place it can save as much as twenty minutes of processing time per image. Things such as automatic bill payment and scheduling regular grocery delivery for those things one needs on a regular basis (think milk, bread, coffee) are not only convenient, they allow us to focus on higher priority activities.
- Should someone else be doing what I’m doing?
I’ll admit that this is a tough issue for me because I tend to be a control freak about certain activities, such as food preparation, laundry, and washing dishes. Without question, those are all important activities, but do I have to be the one to do them? Chances are, at least most the time, the answer is no. There are other people in this household not otherwise engaged who are perfectly capable of completing most of those tasks over which I tend to obsess. If I am making the best decisions, I let them do those things on their own.
What is perhaps most challenging about letting someone else do something we are currently doing is knowing that they are likely to make mistakes. We have to take some time to teach people to do what we’re doing, then give them space to experiment and modify the process to fit them. For example, my boys started doing their own laundry when they were five years old. They had to stand on a footstool to reach the top of the washing machine. Yes, they each had their moments of having to wear pink underwear, but not only did it free considerable time for me, but it was also an important part of teaching them self-sufficiency. The time we spend teaching others is never wasted. Let go and let someone else help where they can.
- Is this the best thing for me to be doing right now?
Wow, do I struggle with this issue. One of the frustrating aspects of list making is that we rarely create a list based upon the importance of any specific task. Rather, we tend to make them based on routine or simply because we know those things need to be done. Then, more often than not, we pick the easiest things from those lists to do first. As a result, more challenging and perhaps more important things get shoved to the end of the day where they may not be addressed at all. Oops!
What one does well to consider is that it is perfectly acceptable to procrastinate with less important tasks. For example, I know that at some point today I need to check pricing on various print sizes. The information is necessary for a decision I have to make later but it is not as important as the fashion shows I need to review or completing this article. To go off down the inevitable rabbit hole that comes with pricing prints at this point in my day would mean pushing my writing down until I’m too tired to form cohesive sentences. Price checking doesn’t require as much mental agility so it can wait.
Once we’ve asked those four questions, we’re more likely to be left with the things that are most important for us to be doing, the activities with the highest priority. Even here, not everything we do carries the same weight. One has to consider the potential level of impact for each activity. We continue to ask questions such as whether doing something seemingly trivial now frees time to do something more involved later and considering who benefits from any specific activity.
As we set priorities, what we do with our time becomes more effective and beneficial not only to us but to all of humanity. When I teach my children to pick up after themselves, that activity begins to establish a priority for caring about one’s environment. As one cares more about their environment we are less likely to make decisions that harm it.
See how this all starts to come together? When we really reduce our efforts down so that we have time fo focus on what is genuinely important, the entire planet benefits.
Changing Our Perspective
When someone young asks me for photography advice, my instructions to them are two simple words: shoot dirt. While those instructions may not make much sense on the surface, the practice itself is invaluable to a young photographer. One of the most significant obstacles to taking good photographs is that we limit our perspective to what we see with our eyes, standing up. When we break out of that box, get all the way down on the ground and focus on what we previously considered mundane, we discover that there is an entirely different world running literally beneath our feet, a world that is subject to dramatic changes as we walk over it, run on it, mow it down, water it, and dig it up. Learning to “shoot dirt” is a way of opening our eyes and our awareness more fully to the world around us.
One of the things that makes us dangerous as a society is that we have this overwhelming tendency to be self-consumed. Everything we do, say, and buy, everywhere we go, the mode of travel we choose, the political causes we support, are based on what we want, what we think we need and what makes us feel the most comfortable. This creates for us a very narrow tunnel of vision and for many people that tunnel is all we’ve ever known. We are so committed to this one perspective that we begin to believe that everyone and everything must see the world exactly the same way. Then, when we make decisions based on that vision, we inevitably run the risk of hurting other people, even our entire species, because it turns out that our perspective was too limited to be aware of the dangers and the risks we were creating for other people.
Here’s the thing: adjusting and changing our perspective takes time, which is why we have to realign our priorities before we get to this step. It’s too easy to make excuses when our schedule is cluttered with things that could be automated, given to someone else, or put off until later. Create some time to change your viewing habits.
One of the best ways to change one’s perspective, of course, is to travel internationally, get out of our comfortable home environment and experience how people live in other areas of the world. Unfortunately, not only does traveling take up large amounts of time, it also tends to take up even larger amounts of money.
I have to laugh when I see a travel blog touting what a bargain some place is for “only $1,500” when I’m having difficulty scraping together enough change for a fast food cheeseburger. Even if $1,500 is a third or less of the trip’s normal price, it’s still out of my reach, making the discount irellevant. Similarly, I have to question the wisdom of those who suggest young people should spend more time “creating memories” instead of going to college and plugging into society in a helpful way. Memories are nice but don’t pay utility bills or provide a financial buffer should one become injured. As much as traveling internationally can dramatically open our eyes to experiences different from ours, for the greater majority of us it is not much of an option.
Instead, there are things one can do to expand one’s vision that not only don’t cost anything but can tremendously help others in the process. Let’s look at just a few of those ideas:
- Volunteer at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen.
This is something we did often when I was younger and I have found it interesting, and perhaps a bit sad, that when I suggest it to other people the tell me that they’re afraid to go into “those” neighborhoods and work with “those” people. Criminal investigation shows on television have concinvced us that people in need are somehow dangerous. Check your personal history, deal with your fears, and then help in a soup kitchen for just one meal a week. Do this for six months and feel the breadth of your vision expand as we come to realize that not everyone who needs help is a bum or a drug addict, and that even bums and drug addicts didn’t plan on ending up on the streets. The awakening one recieves by helping others in this way is unmatched.
- Help out in a classroom at an inner city school.
One sees a lot on the news about how inncer city schools are struggling but news stories don’t even start in on the reality that goes on and the challenges teachers and administrators face at many inner city schools. I think what slapped me in the face the first time I visited one was not only the severity of need among the students, but the level of need among the teachers themselves. I met one teacher, a 20-year-veteran, whose own shoes had holes in the soles. She ate peanut butter from a jar for lunch because the district charged teachers to eat in the school cafeteria, a cost she couldn’t afford.Yet, she loved her students and watching her care for a group of kids who would never love her back was eye opening on a fundamental level. We all need one of these experiences to rattle us out of our comfort zones and begin to have some real empathy.
- Work on a farm or ranch during a busy season.
One of the disadvantages to becoming less of an agrarian society is that we have dramatically lost touch with what it takes to provide the food that ends up on our table. Agriculture, for the most part, is nothing like it was when I was growing up, with family-run farms that were passed down generation to generation. Yet, there is still considerable value in seeing exactly what goes on during those busy times of the year when farms and ranches can likely use an extra hand or two, especially if they’re offering to do it for free, which I strongly encourage. While the work is hard and will likely test muscles you didn’t know you have, it will leave one with a new appreciation for the effort required to feed the world and why it is difficult for third world countries to establish successful farming and ranching programs. Work one harvest season on a farm, or a ranch during calving season, and you’ll never see the dinner table the same way again.
- Visit a place of worship culturally different from your own experience.
This is one activity that might require some advance planning. Be aware that not every religion worships on the same day of the week and because many places of worship have been victims of vandalism or other inappropriate activity just showing up unannounced might result in one being asked to leave. Contact the person in charge of religious services, explain your desire to learn more as a cultural experience, and move forward from there.
A vast majority of countries around the world hold to some basic religious belief system. Unfortunately, news media too often generalizes religions to the point that none of them make any sense. To understand people of a different culture it helps to understand what they believe. Get to know three or four different people if possible. Understand that in some faiths, worship is separated by gender. Listen, watch, and observe and one’s world grows significantly broader.
- Learn to speak a different language from someone for whom that is their primary language.
Automated languages courses can be huge time savers when one needs to learn a language in a hurry. Unfortunately, what those automated systems cannot do is give one a feel of the customs and cultures that go along with that language. To do that, one needs to learn from a real person, one for whom that language is the one with which they grew up. How difficult this is, of course, depends upon the language one chooses and where one lives. One should also be prepared to pay a person for their time.
Learning a language gives us greater insight into other cultures and the way people live in other places. Languages everywhere evolve as the society evolves. Words that might technically mean one thing can carry social inferences quite different in meaning. As one learns to speak the language one is likely to develop an understanding and, hopefully, an appreciation for the people to whom that language is native. One’s perspective can experience massive change through this experience.
There are still many other things one can do, depending on what resources are available to them. Spending time in the water with a marine biologist changes one’s relationship with the oceans. Taking an advanced class in paleontology gives one a greater appreciation for the influence of societies that existed before us. Each experience outside of our native culture tears down the tunnel vision to which we’ve become accustomed. We see the world and it’s problems in a different manner, which opens us to discovering the real solutions that can put us on a path toward saving our species.
Commit To Making A Difference
Here is where saving humanity becomes challenging. Already, if one has taken all the steps we’ve discussed prior to this point, chances are pretty high that you are already making more of an impact that one might realize. When we help ourselves to better understand who we are and what our role is in the world, then we can better understand others. When we understand our history and how it effects our emotions and our actions, we can better understand how the history of other cultures has led them to the ideas and habits they now embrace. When we eliminate the less important things from our schedule we have more time and energy for the activities that matter and can create the experiences that allow us to grow.
Doing all this work on ourselves and then not using our experience and perspective to help others and save the species is a bit shallow, however. We’ve made it this far but it is still not enough to save the entire species from extinction. To do that, we have to do the things that make a difference outside ourselves. This is where saving humanity becomes work.
Of course, not everyone can do the same thing, but everyone can do something. I’m going to provide some options, suggestions really, but it is up to you to decide which one(s) work(s) for you and how to implement them into your life. None is necessarily better than the others. All are critical to helping humanity survive.
- Get involved politically. This past election saw more moms and more scientists elected to Congress than ever before. This is fantastic because it adds
much-neededperspective to our country’s governing body. However, not everyone can run for Congress nor should they. Most of the decisions that directly affect peoples lives are made at local and state levels of government. Even there, one doesn’t necessarily need to run for office, though. One can watch, monitor, and then advocate for policies and procedures that are pro-human.
For example, a few years ago, while Mike Pence was governor of the state of Indiana, that legislature passed a law prohibiting the development of high-speed rail service within the state. Not many people were watching and the bill passed with hardly anyone in opposition. That bill is decidedly anti-human in that it not only prevents the efficient and rapid migration of people from one place to another, it backhandedly supports other modes of transportation that release greater amounts of carbon dioxide into the air. Had their been pro-human voices opposing the bill, it might not have passed.
Every level of government, from the school board to the city council to oversight committees governing public safety benefits from having people like you and me watching, advocating for those who are not rich, who are not trying to make a profit off a deal, but are simply trying to make sure we continue to live. Lobbying is only a bad word when corporations do it. People lobbying for people is a wonderful thing.
- Become an advocate for marginalized people. Human civilization has a horrible track record for how the people in charge treat those who are not in charge. One would like to think that democracy would change that equation but it hasn’t. Partisan bickering and political retribution run as rampant in the United States now as it did across the Roman Empire 2000 years ago. This means that a lot of people are being marginalized and those people need a voice, someone who will stand up for them.
This does not mean one necessarily needs to be political, though that’s certainly an option. Marginalized people are affected by corporate environments and policies at a much higher rate than they are by political influence. From hiring decisions to differences in how people are paid, to how work assignments are made, anyone who is part of a minority has experienced on-the-job discrimination. You can be the voice that changes those policies. Whether from inside the company or outside.
We are fortunate to be alive at a time when corporations are especially sensitive to charges of discrimination of any kind. The threat of having marginalizing policies exposed to social media where it risks being seen by broadcast and print media is a powerful tool that can help implement change. At the same time, for many companies change might be as simple leaving a store manager a note letting them know that their floor display is too narrow for people in
wheel chairsto navigate, or that the placement of certain equipment or chemicals poses a danger to service animals. Often, all it takes is someone taking a moment to say something. You can be that someone.
- Encourage communication that is inclusive and supportive. Start with your own methods of communication, especially online. Use language that is not combative or antagonistic. Adjust to use non-gender-specific pronouns such as they, their, and them. Politely ask for clarification when someone says something that you or someone else might be challenged to understand.
While online is likely to be the place where we practice our communication skills the most, person-to-person is often where it matters the most. The concept of meeting someone “half-way” is not acceptable. Instead, we need to meet people where they are, be empathetic to their situation, allow them to make mistakes without you correcting them all the time. Show compassion especially where it is not returned.
How we speak to people and how we respond when people speak to us is one of the primary reasons for violence in the United States. Statements that we might not have given a second thought end up being the explosion point that sends someone else looking for a weapon. Words do hurt and we have to be extremely careful in how we use them.
- Develop and improve your community. Let me be very clear at the start here: I hate neighborhood associations that control what people can or cannot do with their own property. Neighborhood associations are the most
predominateform of Communism present in the United States and are an indirect threat to humanity because of the way they force people to take actions that might not be in their best interest. When I talk about developing a community, a neighborhood association is the last reference I wouildwant anyone to make.
That being said, we need to know our neighbors, we need to help our neighbors, we need to encourage our neighbors. Neighborhoods have the opportunity to be powerhouses of influence within a city but that cannot happen when neighbors never speak to each other, constantly call the zoning board on each other, and do things that make other people’s lives more difficult. We can fix that. All it takes is one person going next door and introducing themselves. That’s how it all starts.
Critical to this effort is that one not be afraid of small talk. Big conversations begin with small talk. Consider asking someone what was the first movie they ever saw and how old were they when they saw it. Another approach
someone who their favorite musician is and if it’s someone with whom you’re not familiar, perhaps ask them to play a sample. Listen to what they say, embrace the things that make them happy. This is how friendships are planted. Little by little, one neighbor at a time, create friendships and then introduce friends to one another. Quite quickly one is likely to discover that they’ve helped develop a community that is diverse, safe, and supportive of each other. This is how change happens at the grassroots level. These are actions that matter. isask
- Teach. Teach anything, anyone, wherever and whenever you can. One doesn’t need to be formal about
the education, either. Where one sees an opportunity to help someone learn, take it. Show a preschooler how to tie their own shoes. Help an eight-year-old learn how to wash dishes. Teach a young teenager how to apply makeup or style their hair. Help an older person figure out their smart devices or how to avoid scams online.
I am convinced that everyone has the ability to teach someone something and that they should do so. Little lessons can mean a lot. I remember the person who taught me how to cast with an open-face reel. I remember the person who taught me how to pop a wheelie on my bicycle without busting my head open. I remember the person who taught me how to kiss. We come into this world with zero knowledge and few instincts. Everything else we have to learn and in a lot of cases we have to unlearn something wrong first. Someone went to the trouble to teach us and it is up to us to pass along that knowledge, those skills, and and that fantastic feeling of accomplishment to others.
Added bonus: when we teach from an attitude of compassion and empathy, we teach others how to interact with people the same way. We, as a species, tend to mimic the actions and attitudes of those around us. When we are around negative-minded people our attitude and actions are more likely to be negative as well. When we present people with a learning environment that is positive, encouraging, and supportive of who they are, they are more likely to respond to other people in a positive manner as well.
Notice there is nothing in here about fighting robots, combating people who make robots, or everyone having to obtain advanced medical degrees. Saving humanity doesn’t have to be all that complicated. Certainly, it could be if we allow matters to spiral too far out of control, but if we do the things outlined here many of the issues that threaten us, issues such as war, famine and poverty, along with the diseases cause by those conditions are most likely to solve themselves. A grat amount of the suffering experienced globally, and many of the dangers we face as a species, are directly tied to our long-standing insistence upon being assholes toward ourselves and each other. Once we turn that around, a significant number of our problems go away.
Again, there’s no forcing anyone to do any of these things, oranything else. If we, collectively, are to save humanity through humane methods we each have to decide that humanity is worth our effort.
In every movie where robots develop an advanced intelligence and begin eliminating humans it is because what they see in humans is a race of beings hell-bent on being cruel, aggressive, jackasses. Therefore, it stands to reason, we stop acting like jackasses and the threat of AI domination goes away. It might help us out against alien invasion as well, though I’ve no basis for certainty on that matter.
No matter who we are, where we were born, what color our skin, what we believe, how we identify ourselves, or who we choose to love, we are all humans and it is up to us to save ourselves by being better humans.
Thank you for reading. Thank you for sharing.
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