☆ May 18, 2016
The other day, my mind wandered into wondering about the motivations of early humans. Here’s the list I came up with, in order of priority:
To make their lives
• more secure
• more convenient
• more beautiful
• more meaningful (to find/define the meaning)
And then I wondered what has changed. And then I realized NOTHING HAS CHANGED. Nothing has changed, in regards to general human motivations, in 50,000+ years. The technology with which we attempt to achieve them has changed (vastly and drastically), but our incentives? Still the same as cavemen.
And then I decided to assume, for the sake of a mind game, that these motivations are no longer sound. Let’s say we’ve solved them, wholly and completely and permanently. I decided to try to see if I could:
TO MAKE OUR LIVES SAFER: Einstein said, “The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.” Platitudes can be found in many religions, spiritualities, and philosophies which all boil down to “you are always safe (if you believe).” I say “platitudes” because it is hard for me to reconcile the words “you are always safe” when juxtaposed against the facts of this speech and this book and this story and the truth that I could continue this list of examples for pages. So let’s circle back to this one.
TO MAKE OUR LIVES EASIER: “Easier” isn’t a sustainable thing. What if we collectively let go of wanting things to be easy all the time. I’m taking this back to the premise of my commencement address: you can’t avoid pain. It does not matter how much money one has or how much power one has or how much love or how much sex or how many awards – these things do not magically make people exempt from pain and difficulty. To attempt a life of permanent easiness that is free from pain is futile, and therefore a waste of time, energy, and opportunity. So let’s take EASIER off the list.
TO MAKE OUR LIVES MORE SECURE: “The illusion of safety” is a concept my aunt and I came up with right before my cross-country Vespa ride. I did not have room to bring a tent. And I didn’t want to bring mace because I didn’t know how the pressurized canister would handle the extreme heat and elevation changes of my ride (I didn’t want it to explode on me). And my aunt and I came to realize that “tent” and “mace” do not guarantee safety, or even do much to mitigate potential harm the way my helmet and leathers did. And even my helmet and leathers didn’t guarantee my safety. We want guarantees so badly and we just don’t get them. Perhaps a better term is “the illusion of control.” The ancient Greeks called it the “caprice of the Gods,” and built their entire mythology around it. I have an IRA and I wear my seat belt and I recommend both, but they don’t guarantee anything. So let’s take SECURITY off the list.
TO MAKE OUR LIVES MORE CONVENIENT: Convenience is killing us. I decided this when I was living in the cabin, which was glorified camping, especially through six Wyoming winters. I didn’t have a furnace and I had to chop wood for the woodstove and haul water from the horse trough but I was in excellent shape, just from living – I got strong because I didn’t have a button on the wall to make my hovel warm. And while I wouldn’t really wish that kind of lifestyle on anyone, nor on myself at age 50-plus, going from furnace-heated-house to car to elevator to office to sofa to bed with some take out meals in the middle is not great for our health. So let’s take CONVENIENT off the list.
TO MAKE OUR LIVES MORE BEAUTIFUL: I love art, I make art, and, in my opinion, music is utter magic. But we’ve got nuthin’ on Mother Nature – her work is the best. I don’t NEED jewelry when I have a sunrise. So let’s accept that there is BEAUTY all around us all the time and take that off the list, too.
TO ASSIGN MEANING TO OUR LIVES: I may have become a bit cynical after so much loss and death in the past few years, or maybe I’ve become more realistic, but I’ve come to think that so much of the meaning we try to assign to our lives (and to death) are bedtime stories for grownups. Stories we tell ourselves to feel better, to feel less out of control, perhaps to guide but mostly to comfort. Here’s the meaning I’ve assigned everything at this point: all we have is right now, and we really don’t know f*ck-all about any of it. So that takes MEANING off the list.
And then I wondered what’s left. If we can go back to the first point of safety and determine that we are not in imminent danger, and everything else on the list of caveman motivations has been refuted, what could motivate us? What WOULD motivate us?
And I decided the answer is KINDNESS. Kindness to others.
Vonnegut was right: “There’s only one rule that I know of, babies – God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”
And if we were able to do this, REALLY were able to, collectively… the first point of safety would be granted to so many who don’t have it now.
It’s been interesting, fun, and disturbing to analyze myself since going on this mind trip – my thoughts, my choices, my actions – am I leading with a caveman motivation or am I leading with kindness? It is a work in progress.