Improving as humans (in the light of #MeToo)

The history of humanity has been a history of individual and collective self-improvements. Especially over the past couple of hundred of years, we have managed to mitigate and limit many of our primal instincts and primitive behavioral patterns. Patterns that served the prehistoric Homo Sapiens in the environment in which they evolved, but that are largely out of place and often harmful in our civilized and technological world.

Seen from this perspective, the #MeToo meme makes clear that we have more work to do (which of course, is no news). We have to keep getting better at understanding ourselves, our impulses — why we do what we do. We have to understanding why we sometimes act in ways that hurt others (and often, even ourselves). And we have to (and are able to) learn ways to keep improving in that regard; to stop seeking reward, status or short-term gratification in destructive behavior.

I’m using “we”, but not exclusively as in “we men”. Also as in “we humans”. Certainly, when it comes to the experiences that are being shared as part of #MeToo, it’s obvious that here it’s mostly men’s turn and responsibility to sharpen up. Additionally, the sweeping technological and structural changes of our time are undoubtedly posing a particular challenge for men to adapt and reinvent for a knowledge-based, networked era in which stereotypical male characteristics (even beyond the unemphatic, relentless pursuer of sexual opportunities) are falling out of fashion (sidenote: There is an interesting new men’s movement coming ouf of Sweden which wants to address this particular challenge).

In the grand scheme of things however, one can understand the necessity of further improvements as something universally human. After all, the culture in which certain patterns emerge and persist is the joint result of everyone’s (sometimes unconscious) actions within it and of often unintentional, indirect endorsements of it.

Impulsiveness, biases, insecurities, lack of empathy, lack of ability to communicate, lack of self-control, lack of access to one’s deeper emotions or the constant need for validation, are universal human “features”. Everybody has them, with zero (!) exceptions. Only the degrees vary. And everybody can get better at handling these issues. Learning to control sexual urges, to channel them constructively instead of destructively, and to opt out of a culture in which male success is widely defined as sexual success with a mate (or as achievements that act as an immediate enabler of it), is one important task. One task of many.

In framing the debate through a lens of determination and encouragement to improve as humans— individually and collectively — maybe we can prevent the division that otherwise becomes the collateral damage of the polarizing cultural tension that is building up everywhere these days.