There was once a time when humans had to concentrate most of their efforts on simply surviving, moving from place to place in search of food. Over time hunting and gathering gave way to settling down somewhere amenable to growing crops, raising animals, working with a group to create a society of fellowship. Even then there was little time for doing anything other than toiling to keep food on the table and defending homes from invaders of all kinds. Nonetheless, it was in the nature of humans to try new things, new ideas. Even in primitive civilizations we witness attempts to create works of art. We find ancient tools for making work easier. We encounter instruments for making music. It is in the nature of every person to explore, to try new things, to accept challenges beyond the parameters of merely surviving.
The uniqueness of humans lies in their ability to think outside of a box, to dare to push themselves seemingly beyond their abilities. It is this tendency that has built a legacy of artistry, innovation, inventiveness. It took thousands of years of human willingness to push the envelope of possibilities to lead to the incredible comforts of the modern world.
I need only look around my home to be in awe of what people have managed to accomplish. The quest for more knowledge, new ideas continues even as I “write” with a tiny computer more powerful than the entire room of gigantic machines used in mankind’s journey to the moon. Thinking of the march of progress is a breathtaking and inspiring story of people willing to try new things simply because it is in our natures to explore the world of thoughts and ideas.
My grandmothers were unable to read or write. Only two generations later I have accumulated knowledge and skills that were unimaginable to them. My grandfathers supported their families with backbreaking labor. Their grandson created the program for the navigational system of the International Space Station. We appear to be progressing in quantum leaps, but we are also in the midst of a strange time when many of our fellow humans are voicing anti-science, anti-intellectual, anti-artistic fears. They question the value of creativity and innovation and express wishes to return to simpler times, to eschew anything new or different.
I suppose that such fears have always been the counter weight to taking risks like replacing horse drawn carriages with automobiles, or supplanting oil lamps with electric lights. No doubt there are more cautious souls among us who worry that we may be going too far when we push our explorations to points that we don’t really understand. We are hard-wired to be careful and even flee when we sense danger. Surely the unknown is the most dangerous possibility that we may ever face.
Many of us leave it to others to be the pioneers. We only accept the work of pacesetters once it seems to be safe to do so. We are not like my husband who seems to be the first on the block to automate his home, purchase a family computer, undergo experimental medical treatments. He looks to the future with enthusiasm while others his age cling to old ideas and tried and true ways of doing things. He is a futurist who appreciates that the world is progressing more rapidly than ever. He envisions a time when the disabled will be freed from their wheelchairs and the air on our earth will be cleansed from the fumes of fossil fuels that are now choking it. He is an optimist because he believes in those toiling away to find better ways of living.
Because my focus has always been on people, I too am a dreamer. I long for a world in which we all understand that our strength lies in our diversity. Surrounding ourselves with sameness only produce a kind of intellectual lethargy and even envy or fear. We are too often reluctant to accept people whom we do not understand. These are the very reasons that we have so often warred with one another, abused those who seem different, undervalued and underrated people whose skin color, or cultures, or politics are different from our own. When we set aside our concerns and ironclad convictions and begin to learn more about each other we realize that no one type of person or nation is the best. We are all just humans attempting to make our way through life. Advancing our understanding and acceptance of differences is actually another way of making the world a better place.
Culture wars and anti-science are destructive to a healthy society. They are the bane of peaceful progress, the creators of ignorance and evil. We would all do well to try new things, learn new ideas, demonstrate a willingness to move forward, not backward. It can be a scary thing to do, but without risks we would still be wandering around searching for food and a cave to keep us warm and dry. Try on a new perspective even if it is only a tiny step forward. It is an exhilarating way to live.