We as a society have gotten better and better and better at things like football and basketball and technology over the past several decades.
Compare the iPhone to the brick-like cordless phones of the 1980s. Compare LeBron James’ physical ability and durability to Michael Jordan’s. Compare the YouTubers of today to those of … 2016?
Every generation or iteration brings a massive leap forward in these areas, and they have become our obsessions, mostly to our detriment.
The result is that we now live in a culture that incentivizes specialization and single-mindedness. A culture that incentivizes physical health, but does not incentivize emotional health or mental health.
Are we doomed to a future based on and defined by our misplaced priorities? Or might we have some say in the matter?
Evolution Is Ignoring Emotion
Technology’s evolution accelerated because it became the hub that connects nearly every element of our society. We all benefited from its growth, and governments and pornographers profited from it, so therefore it grew massively and exponentially.
We now live in a world overrun with technology, but we lack the training for how to use that technology in a humane, civil and civic way.
The evolution of athletics accelerated because the masses love sports, so there’s a lot of money to be had. If you’re naturally talented and physically gifted, it’s worth committing your life to this singular pursuit because it just might pay off.
But if you get injured, or if it turns out you’re just not that good, what do you have left? We have turned our greatest athletes into mythological figures, while thousands of very good athletes still struggle to pay their way through college.
These evolutions are natural, in that they are apparently in accordance with human nature. But they are not in our best interest, and we are losing control of them. They are leaving us with fear, anxiety, envy and depression.
This is a moment in which we must push back against our nature. We must push back against this accelerated evolution, and instead, we must accelerate our own evolution.
We must evolve emotionally, and we must do it quickly. It’s time to begin living with positive intent.
What We Should Incentivize
If our society valued things like generosity and emotional labor as much as we value strength and speed, Seth Godin’s yellow-framed glasses would be adorned with a Swoosh and would sell for $500.
Seth has been blogging every day, literally, for decades. Thousands and thousands of consecutive days. He’s the LeBron James of blogging. He’s basically Yoda.
I don’t know Seth’s annual income, but I’m willing to guess there are 100 players in the NBA who make more than he does. And almost none of them can say they’ve contributed to the world with generosity on par with his. But their skills are incentivized more than his.
Imagine if we lived in a world where there were hundreds of Seths, who were each famous and made millions of dollars. What qualities within us might this kind of system incentivize?
Imagine if we competed against high school friends for spots on the varsity writing team. Or if as teenagers, our parents paid for a professional coach to train us year-round in philosophy. Or if Nike’s slogan was not “Just Do It,” but “Just Read It.”
Who knows. Maybe our competitiveness and survival instincts would make a mess of that world, as they have in ours. Maybe we are destined for self-destruction regardless.
But in my eternal optimism, I’d like to think that generosity and curiosity are evolutionarily beneficial characteristics that would accelerate, if only our society incentivized them. That if we pursued growth in these areas over the course of decades, generation after generation, we’d end up with kids who are as proficient at emotional complexity as Stephen Curry is at shooting a basketball.
Evolution: Do It Yourself
Regardless of where evolution seems to be taking us, it is clear that our emotions have not evolved quickly enough to keep pace with sports or technology. Those of us who recognize this are obligated to do something about it.
What we can do is so simple:
Begin approaching every aspect of your life with positive intent. Bring generosity and curiosity to every interaction, every challenge and every opportunity. Start today.
It’s hard work, but it stops being hard once you realize how much you’ve changed, and how much you dislike your former self. You will still falter, but you will feel no shame in the trying. And you will grow more than you can imagine.
We can accelerate our own evolution by living with positive intent, and by talking about positive intent with others.
We can use our overly advanced technology and business practices for good, and work to spread ideas based in generosity and curiosity.
We can remind ourselves of the influence we have in our homes, our communities and our workplaces, and we can introduce positive intent in those spaces, and then watch it spread organically.
This can be our resistance to the evolution that is passing us by.
No one will do this for you. The world is not going to make it easier for you. But we owe it to each other to make whatever dent we can.