I’m an individual who is fascinated with strategy — of seeing the big picture. I think I understand the impact of playing the long game. But, I readily accept that I’m a mere student in the art of it.
Three years ago I realised, even more, how much of student of life I was when I read Sapiens — A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari for the first time. I have never read another book that made as much sense as Sapiens does, not before and not since.
In making sense to me, it joined the dots together in a way I had never expected. At the same time though it destroyed some of the foundations I had built my life on.
How would I come to terms with this?
I was brought up as with half an eye on Christian values. As a young boy, I grew to become a profound believer, going to church and saying prayers as you do. I was even a choir boy as well.
As I became older so I discovered certain aspects of Christianity didn’t add up. I wasn’t able to join the dots up, so to speak.
The first hint of this was the most wonderful time of the year, Christmas.
It’s the point where you discover the presents under the tree were put there by your parents, not Father Christmas. I was slightly older than most when I discovered it was all a sham, and the sadness made my heartache.
The thing that stunned me was the lies I, and others were told. The whole Santa thing was a myth, a figment of someone’s imagination. I started to question what I thought I knew to be true if Christmas was a lie, then what else was a convenient fib?
In truth, learning about Christmas was the turning point in the faith I had in the values of Christianity. I backed away from the church and stopped going altogether. It wasn’t that I stopped believing, I just couldn’t make sense of it all.
I got to the point where I wasn’t sure what to believe, so I didn’t believe in anything.
An Explanation at Last
Three years ago a good friend of mine mentioned Sapiens to me in passing. I had hated history at school, our time had been spent looking at the stone age or the Tudors.
My friend explained that Sapiens wasn’t so much history but more anthropology, which was what I asked? It was the study of humans and human behaviour, along with the patterns they formed over many years.
With that in mind, I purchased the book and started reading. A brief history of humankind, if ever a subtitle was an understatement, this was it.
What I found, page after page was, at last, a plausible explanation of life. Of humanity as I witnessed it day after day.
The Big Picture
For most of us, we only look at our life in the context of the one we live. For most of us, this is an average of eighty years. It is true to say we don’t live with those eighty years in mind, far from it.
The reality is we are consumed by the detail of everyday living, so much so that we take life as it is. We think about delighting our tastebuds, being stimulated or of what to watch on TV. Our minds are blighted by reliving past events or worrying about the future.
We never think beyond our lifetime, why do we need to?
It transpires that when you look at the really big picture of humanity like Yuval does, you see a very different world. An examination of life over the last 70,000 years shows things most of us have no idea about.
Imagination and Science
In this book we are presented with many things which most of society would find uncomfortable to accept. To start with, the book declares religion is a construct of our imagination.
Capitalism, communism and socialism are the same things. They are all tools or systems our imagination created. We constructed them to create a framework for us to collaborate. In essence, they were or are stepping stones to globalisation.
This explanation comes in part from our learnings in our most recent past. I say recent, but I’m talking about 500 years.
The scientific revolution changed the world considerably. In part, this was because we were prepared to accept that previous knowledge as incorrect. Things that had been accepted were being challenged, rules and beliefs disregarded as a result.
What science gave was an alternative view of our creation, one that was more plausible.
As I said, the book does make uncomfortable reading for some. None of us wants to accept that we are like everything else on our planet. An organism that is born, lives and then dies. Our brains cannot accept this version, so we have used our imaginations over thousands of years to create a story that softens this reality.
Humanity and Its Quirks
What Sapiens did, which I never expected was to explain why we lie. We tell ourselves stories to create happiness in our lives. The big stories of humanity have worked to unify us, bringing us together.
What is clear from what I experienced, which the book explains in detail is that we are living through a period of great change. The change is the shift from stories to science. My generation is struggling to find a balance between the two elements.
Many humans have a desire to want to know the truth, but at what cost? As we begin to understand the big picture, our overall happiness is declining. It could be argued that this is the greatest challenge humankind faces.
When I think of my life, I can see how science broke the narratives that defined me. Going forward, the challenge I’m presented with is how to redefine my life. I think many others who can see the same big picture as me, are faced with a similar dilemma.
So, for me, a logical thinker the world makes a little more sense. I can see why things didn’t add up for me.
That was until I read Sapiens, then it did.