It would be an understatement to say that the pages to come exhibit “big picture” thinking. They deal will the history of humanity over the last hundreds of thousands of years, what we mean by “human nature”, what the ultimate fate – perhaps even “destiny” – of our species might be, and beyond.
But I don’t think it is a coincidence that the first seeds of this book sprouted in my mind out of something much more intimate and personal. I first put pen to paper in the weeks and months directly following the news that I would be a father and I’ve completed the bulk of it in the many months following the birth of my son Owen.
Over the last several months, I have watched Owen slowly develop and take shape, becoming just a little more alert and dynamic bit by bit, discovering something new each day. I watch him instinctively learn to take food from his mother, and to smile as a way to show delight. I watch as he learns to dart his eyes back and forth tracking objects in front of him. I watch as he slowly teaches himself to make particular sounds and gestures.
This growth, while perfectly ordinary and expected in a sense, is at the same time miraculous. How does he know how to grow himself like that? How is it possible this wonder of life who will smile into my eyes and grab on to my finger was just a cluster of cells less than a year ago? How can it possibly be? This emergence of life unfolding before my eyes is breathtaking and utterly remarkable to me.
This book comes from the simple thought that if Owen’s life is miraculous and remarkable, worthy of our awe and admiration, then so must be that of all humans, and therefore so must be humanity itself. What if we looked at humanity the same way I look at Owen? What if we chose to see humanity itself as an ever-evolving species that has just scratched the surface of their potential,? What if we viewed our species’ many indiscretions, flaws, and vices like we would those of a teenager – inevitable steps along the road to becoming full-fledged responsible adults? What if we thought of ourselves as just on the cusp of coming into humanity’s adulthood?
And yet, in today’s world, the most common view of humanity is not one of awe, gratitude, and possibility. It’s not one of proactively kindling ourselves toward our highest potentials as a species. No, all too often, it’s one of cynicism, despair, blame, and shame. We decry humanity for its many failings and “sins”. We despair that change and progress never seem to occur as quickly or fully as we’d prefer. We lament that with every generation we get farther away from a time when humanity was whole, good, and pure. We seem to despise ourselves and hope that that will absolve us of our imperfections.
Think of how far we’ve come in the hundreds of thousands of years since the first fire. Think of what we’ve taught ourselves and brought to life. We’ve invented agriculture, religion, community, government, and the very concepts of democracy, justice, and equality. We’ve built pyramids, skyscrapers, and space stations. We’ve developed vast global communications systems and pulled literally billions out of poverty. More than that, think of how far our morals and values have come. We’ve largely rid ourselves of torture and slavery. Intertribal warfare is at an all-time low. Women and racial minorities, while still far from equal, are closer to equality of opportunity than ever. Think of all the technological inventions and moral discoveries to come.
Do not confuse me. There is much to be concerned about in our world. The need for urgent action is great, perhaps greater than ever. And there is good reason to worry that a sense of optimism and possibility will lead to many of us to apathy and inaction. Too often hope leads us to a belief that change is inevitable and that we as individuals needn’t do anything. No, this is all to say that change is both urgently needed and eminently possible. The only thing that stands in our way is ourselves, our own stories of who we are and what we are capable of.
If I start viewing humanity from a lens of growth and possibility, and so do you, and so does Owen, and so do all the little Owen’s just coming to live all around the world, then suddenly, in that very act, we can once again turn the page on a new chapter of oue long incredible story of self-discovery and self-actualization. We can step into a new frame of mind that allows us to overcome and transcend so many of the problems that vex us: oppression, poverty, materialism and overconsumption, lack of meaning and purpose. Through the act of seeing ourselves through a new lens, we open ourselves to a new capacity to change ourselves for the better.
So think of this as a self-help book, not for you or any other one person, but for humanity as a whole. It offers a new story to tell ourselves, one that not only allows us to rid ourselves of the toxic shame and despair that clouds our hearts and minds, but best enables us to drive the change that we so need and activate all the vast potential that lies quietly waiting for us to tap into.
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