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Lessons I Learned from Yuval Noah Harari

How to live in the now and prepare for the future

The world has never been changing as quickly as it is right now. 20 years ago, we’d never imagine that this is the world we’d be living in today. Imagine what the world will like in 20 years!

Well actually, you can’t … no one can! Yuval sums it up nicely:

“People are usually afraid of change because they fear the unknown. But the single greatest constant of history is that everything changes.”

In fact, we have a hard time understanding our huge planet right now. What’s happening here on Earth? What do we face? What are our solutions to them? And most importantly, what should the young generation do to prepare for it?

All these questions and more were addressed in Yuval’s new book:

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Here are my biggest takeaways!

1. Be Humble and Seek the Truth

In the world we live in today, it’s impossible to process all the information we get. Fiction and lies are all around us; propaganda and misinformation are rampant. We have little understanding of how things actually work and can’t answer the simplest questions.

“The system is structured in such a way that those who make no effort to know can remain in blissful ignorance, and those who do make an effort will find it very difficult to discover the truth.”

Accept your ignorance

“One potential remedy for human stupidity is a dose of humility.”

The problem is, a lot of us think we know a lot. Many hold hard to their beliefs and remain close-minded. They think that their religion, ideology, or viewpoint is correct and that others are wrong.

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Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

To combat this mindset, always ask yourself: “How might I be wrong?” Assuming that you’re wrong and attempting the seek the other perspective will lead to better interactions and a greater understanding.

Be intentional about seeking the truth

There is something amiss with the intentions of those who do not make a “sincere effort to know”.

Yuval argues that we must prioritize the truth. We must believe and follow the best media and people.

He advises, when seeking important information, to pay for it. If the issue is especially important, read the scientific literature.

2. We are One

Yuval argues that there is just one civilization.

Take nationalism. Unlike what we might think, it is NOT rooted in human biology. As humans, we’re able to develop loyalty to an intimate group of people from our hunter-gatherer times, but not naturally to millions of people. Just ask yourself: “Do I really know the people in my country?”

And yes, though nationalism is important, it’s a problem when it becomes chauvinistic ultranationalism (when you say that your own nation is supreme to others), which causes great conflict. Also, with different nations, it’s extremely difficult to come up with solutions to nuclear, ecological, and technological problems and advancements.

What about religion? Here, Yuval really takes his stance against it. He argues that religion is inferior to science.

“Scientists gradually learned how to grow better crops and better medicines, while priests and gurus learned to make better excuses.”

Also, religion has no answers to the biggest policies (like economy or politics) but only imaginative interpretations of scriptures to harden views on issues, which may not be logical or correct. As humans, we rely on religion simply for identity. Religion bands us together with stories and distinguishes us from others to make us feel important. But this actually makes religion a problem, since it provides little answers to the current problems we face and reinforce nationalism.

Yuval believes that globalism is the answer. Humans across the world must come together, respecting our differences to focus on the problems we face today.

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Photo by NASA on Unsplash

Sounds impossible? In fact, the human species have merged together in more ways than you’d imagine. Think the Olympics, economics, healthcare, science, … the list goes on! Our greatest accomplishments have been through collaborations across the globe. We must unite as a species if we want to continue the human race.

So what can we as individuals do?

Focus on building intimate communities and relationships.

So instead of texting your 100 facebook friends all day or sending 600 streaks daily, get out there and have unique experiences with your 3 best friends! Or create a local running group! Get to know your close community to have a larger sense of belonging.

Respect others, no matter your differences.

3. Don’t Panic

“We can rise to the occasion if we control our fears and be more humble.”

Terrorism seems terrifying to most. But what is it, actually? Terrorism is a militant strategy trying to change politics by spreading fear, employed by the weak because they can’t inflict actual damage. It’s killed 50 in the EU and 10 in the US in 2018; compared to drunk driving or cancer, that’s nothing! It uses fear and confusion to provoke the enemy to overact, causing a massive storm.

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Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

The solution? The governments should take action against financial networks of terrorism. The media must avoid hysteria and citizens must control imagination and react in a cool way (note: nuclear terrorism, on the other hand, is extremely dangerous but is still unlikely at the present).

What about war? Well, we’re actually living at the most peaceful era in history! War is no longer useful for nations since it wastes resources and gives little in return. Though it’s still a possibility, it should not be a priority.

What does this mean?

Keep calm and level-headed.

4. Prepare for the Future

The problem is we don’t know what the future is going to be, especially with the unthinkable speed the world is moving at.

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Photo by Guillaume Jaillet on Unsplash

“If somebody describes the world of the mid-twenty first century to you and it sounds like science fiction, it is probably false. But then again, if somebody describes the world of the mid-twenty first century to you and it doesn’t sound like science fiction, it is certainly false.”

Basically, this means that much of what we’re learning right now will be useless in the 20–50 years. But shouldn’t the education system be preparing us for the future?

It all comes down to history. In the past, it was super important to learn as much knowledge as possible because information was hard to come by and was mostly censored. Schools focused on predetermined skills, like arithmetic, physics, and literacy.

Now, however, we have too much information. You can learn anything you want and the problem we’re facing now is misinformation and distractions. Schools are continuing to teach us these skills, except we don’t know what skills we need to succeed in the future.

“We don’t need more information: we need the ability to make sense of it, what’s important and what’s not, and combine them to understand the world.”

So what in the world should we do?

Focus on the 4 C’s

Work on training these skills. Solving difficult problems. Hone in your communication skills through interacting with more people. Work in groups and teams to understand how to work better with others. Pick up an instrument or paintbrush and let your creative juices flow.

Learn to Reinvent yourself Again and Again

“People are usually afraid of change because they fear the unknown. But the single greatest constant of history is that everything changes.”

Change is the only certainty. But it also causes stress; as you grow older, you become fearful of change. Instead, you long for stability.

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Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash

However, as this rapidly changing world continues to accelerate, we must learn to reinvent ourselves again and again. We must learn to embrace the unknown while maintaining mental balance.

We can prepare for this by becoming more comfortable with the unknown. Face a fear you’ve always had. Try something new every day. Embark on an uncomfort challenge! We must strengthen our mental stability for the future, and it’s never too late to start.

5. Know Thyself

We often build our personal identities off of stories, like in religion, legends, nationalism, and ideologies. However, these stories are often flawed and open-ended; we forget to question their validity and true significance. Supported through rituals, sacrifices, and groupthink, these stories become unthinkable to doubt once they become part of our identity.

“Most stories are held together by the weight of their roof rather than by the strength of their foundations.”

According to Yuval, all these stories are fakes. There is no ready-made product or divine script. The universe doesn’t work as a story. There is no story.

So where do we draw from for our meaning and identities? From ourselves!

Understand who you are

If you don’t know what you want in life, it will be all too easy for technology to shape your aims for you and take control of your life.

It’s never been as urgent as it is today to know thyself. We are the ones who give meaning to everything, not the stories that give meaning to us.

From today, we have to start learning more about ourselves. Know what you want out of life. Know what experiences you want to have, know your key and fundamental values, and who you want to be. Don’t rely on adults too much. Most mean well but don’t really understand the world.

“To run fast, don’t take much baggage with you. Leave all your illusions behind. They are very heavy”

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Photo by Felicia Buitenwerf on Unsplash

Understand Suffering

“So if you want to know the truth about the universe, about the meaning of life, and about your own identity, the best place to start is by observing suffering and exploring what it is.”

Morality is developed by developing an appreciation of suffering. Morality literally means “reducing suffering”. Yuval argues that suffering arises from believing false stories. People fail to find a God or a soul for salvation and become miserable and hateful.

To get past fiction, we must try to stop suffering, the realest thing in the world. Upon hearing a story, ask if the hero can suffer. If it can suffer, it’s real. Learn to break apart from fiction to break apart from the misery.

Meditation

“Don’t do anything. Don’t control the breath or breathe in a particular way. Just observe the reality of the present moment, whatever it may be. When the breath comes in, you are just aware — now the breath is coming in. When the breath goes out, you are just aware — now the breath is going out. And when you lose your focus and your mind starts wandering in memories and fantasies, just remain aware — now my mind has wandered away from the breath.”

The mind is wild, impatient and difficult to focus; it takes training (Sam Harris’s Waking Up Course is a great guidebook). Self-observation is extremely difficult, especially as more complex stories have emerged. However, our mind is the greatest asset and liability we have. If we neglect to train it, we will suffer.

The deepest source of suffering in the mind. Suffering isn’t objective; it’s a mental reaction.

If we can learn to harness it in this crazy world of unknown, we will be able to brave the current and look forward to what lies ahead of us. And that’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned.

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Photo by Dingzeyu Li on Unsplash

Hope you enjoyed reading and came away with some valuable takeaways! If you enjoyed this article, be sure to follow me and connect on LinkedIn! If you want to contact me, shoot me a message at albertlai631@outlook.com. Would love to talk more :)

Have a great day and stay tuned for more! 👋

Written by

I’m a 17-year-old student who loves technology and life, and trying to get better at both!

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