from "Terra City" - Opening Edition
3. THE DATA
The natural question to ask when we start to analyze a problem is: What seems to be causing this problem? If we ask anyone what is making his life miserable we will not hear that it is the climate or the topography or the flora or fauna in his part of the country that bothers him, nor some aliens from Mars. Instead, we will likely hear that it is his boss or his employees or his colleagues or his clients or his competition or his landlord or his tenants or his wife or his in-laws or his government or the ones who cut the trees in his region or the ones who are selling his stock or the ones who have more than he does or the ones who have less than he does or the ones who attacked his country etc. etc. They will be all complaining about… other people. This is not surprising, since all the bad things that have been done on Earth, as well as all the good things, have been done by ... people. And this is what can be considered the first piece of essential data: Our problem is caused by people, more precisely by “other” people. If we take a million people at random of all conditions and from everywhere in the world, including the worst criminals, rapists, arsonists, impostors and aggressors, how many of them do you think will admit that they are actually doing something bad? It is always others that are doing that.
This first essential data leads us to believe that the entire range of data analysis for our extensive problem can be focused mostly on data about people, about the human beings living on this planet. So, let’s see what we can say about ourselves that can be relevant or rather essential to our problem.
We human beings are funny creatures. If someone dares to criticize us about something that we have done or said, then they can be sure that they’ve got an enemy for life. If instead they praise our opinion, we blush and become muted by emotion. If someone tries to give us advise, they run the risk of being considered a “smart-ass”. But when we give advise to someone, we feel offended if our “wisdom” is not followed as expected. We are quick and sharp in noticing someone else’s fault, but it is one of the most terrible tortures to have to acknowledge our own mistakes. If someone does something bad to us, we lose sleep thinking how to properly pay them back. If instead, someone thanks us for a nice gesture or help that we offered them, we don’t know what other compassionate acts we can perform for them.
We are ready to jump at someone’s throat if they made an “improper” remark about our favorite hockey or football team or political party, and we are capable of starting a war, which we actually did on so many occasions, if someone pretends that their God is as great as ours. On the other hand, if an earthquake, a flood or another disaster strikes a village or a town somewhere on Earth, people from the entire province, country and even other parts of the world feel that every person in that village or town is their brother and sister, regardless of their religion or race and would do anything possible to help and comfort them.
When we drive our car we are unrecognizable and the nicest person becomes somewhat judgmental behind a steering wheel. On the road, someone else is always at fault. But if somebody yields us priority when we did not have it, or allows us to cut them off to change lanes, we are touched and speechless and don’t know how to thank them.
If someone waves a handful of money in front of us, we loose our head and in most cases are ready to do unthinkable things to get it - we are ready to lie, to cheat, to steal, to destroy and even to kill for money, as we have done many times. Instead, if a cat gets trapped in a tree, some unexpected genuine humanitarian spirit is revealed and half of the members of the community are ready to risk their neck to climb up the tree and save him. And if a whale or a dolphin gets trapped into shallow water an entire military operation gets under way to bring them back into the sea.
When someone dear to us is ill we will do anything we can to cheer them up and help them to heal and recover. However, we often fail to realize that our real goal should not be to help them be well only when they are ill, but to try our very best to make them happy throughout their entire lives.
There are many more examples that would serve to illustrate the behavior of these funny human creatures. Are we bad? Are we good? If we try to be as objective as possible it seems that, overall, we are half good and half bad. If we look back at our history we will notice that any attempt to change this duality invariably failed. And so did countless other initiatives that tried to effect change while ignoring one of these two sides. This brings us to the second essential data in our problem: In average and overall, people are almost half good and half bad. (Although possibly too simplistic and general, these two terms – good and bad – were preferred to more specific ones such as selfish and selfless, for instance, for reasons that will become evident later in this chapter). Each individual has these two sides and if for one reason or another some people tend to have more of one side, others have more of the other, and most of our wavy lives are the result of the dynamic balancing process of these two components.
Although after a cool and detached analysis human nature seems to be both good and bad, if we look at our entire history as well as our present reality, it seems that for a certain strange reason, we have an obvious tendency of manifesting our bad side much more quickly and easily than our good side. So the question is: What is it that pushes us to act in a bad way instead of a good way?
The answer to this question may be surprising, for the very element that causes this negativity in human behavior is in fact one of the main factors contributing to our evolution and progress. That is… our spirit of competition. The very name of our life-game is competition, and this is the third essential data of our problem. We are constantly competing against each other at all levels - individuals are competing against other individuals for a better job or position, and sometimes for any kind of job or for a mere piece of bread; corporations are competing against other corporations for market share; countries are competing against other countries for resources and zones of influence. In school, we are taught to learn assiduously and become better than others; in the army, we are trained to be more forceful and deadly than others; at work, we are required to be more competitive than others; in business, we are advised to develop the killer’s instinct if we want to succeed; in sports, we are expected to defeat the others at all costs, and if we are not ourselves playing the sport itself then we feel the need to at least triumph over the opposing team’s supporters. Everything we have – our title, our house, our car, our clothes, our wristwatches, our cell phones, our pens – have to be the largest, nicest, goldest and especially the most expensive possible, since they have to show that we are the winners in this game. And even if we are not, we have to look like winners since, other than winners, the competitive game only knows the losers. There is no such thing as participants that purely enjoy being in the game, for survival of the fittest is the motto of our society.
Everywhere we turn, we are pushed to run the race and become more competitive. And, as a result, this stimulates the manifestation of the bad side much more than the good side of our nature. Our aggressiveness, combativeness, hostility, antipathy and hatred against others becomes overwhelmingly more important than our kindness, compassion, generosity, humanity and spirit of cooperation. A good illustration of this is found when we compare various cities in the world: the more competitive the spirit of a city - the more aggressive the nature of its citizens, and vice-versa.
Where is all this spirit of competition coming from? Perhaps it all started when human life began on the planet and when survival was all that mattered - it was inherited from the other beings that we evolved from. Hundreds of thousands of years ago, our vital needs were to protect our lives and the lives of those close to us. In order to do that we learned to fight, to defend and to attack - we learned to compete. This entire process was based upon, and in the meantime further refined, three fundamental traits: our fear, our greed and our selfishness. It most probably all started with fear, which was the main trait that helped us avoid dangers and pitfalls. Fear made us build shelters, make clothes, store food, create weapons and learn everything that assured the survival of our species. By learning and doing this we started to control our fear to greater or lesser degrees. Then, we made possible the worst discovery ever: we learned a more sophisticated way to protect ourselves - we learned to over-accumulate shelters and clothes and food and weapons. We discovered greed, and realized how by having more and more we could become more powerful and less vulnerable. Once subjugated by fear and greed, we only had to make a small step to become infected by their main by-product: selfishness. Ever since those ancient times, regardless of how much our education succeeded in refining or disguising them, fear, greed and selfishness remained the three main human traits that we can always recognize behind our most atrocious acts and attitudes. And if we think of trying to change anything in our lives and society, we cannot afford to ignore or diminish their importance, for they are the fourth essential data of our problem.
The intricate influence of these three elements in various situations makes it harder to discern which one was the initial cause and which is the maintaining element. But surprisingly, out of the three of them, fear seems to still have the most harmful effect, since most of the time it gets us trapped in a given situation by cutting off any way out of it. Let’s say that people are initially driven to do something disagreeable out of fear or greed or selfishness. Once that is done, it usually becomes “the way things are” in that aspect of the society. From that moment on, even if some people would like to change things back to what they were, they do not dare to do so because of… fear. Everybody gets stuck in a “bulldog-grip” position. No one has the courage to make a step backward for fear of being stepped over by others. So, the only way to move is forward. As a simple example, most banks and corporations are moving towards mergers and acquisitions to become bigger and more powerful. None of them would dare to move in the opposite direction, since that would automatically expose them to self-destruction and subsequent inclusion in one of the mammoths. In other words, the game is set up in such a way that locks everyone in the attack position and does not leave the players any other option to get out of the fighting ring than either “with the shield or on the shield”. I personally know a few wealthy people running profitable companies who genuinely hate the money-based scale of values of the capitalist system, but who, on the other hand, cannot stop themselves from continuously trying to increase their fortunes. And as much as I know these people, this problem arises not so much from greed as from fear of being excluded from the game and to one day be in the position to look for a job for themselves.
At any level, either as private individuals or within companies and governments, people are not genuinely bad - they are just trapped by fear into believing that if they do not screw someone else up, then they will end up being screwed up by others. And their greed and selfishness helps them to complete the task. This is how we end up with unconsidered, ruthless and harmful acts and attitudes at all levels - individuals, corporations and countries, which leads us to the fifth essential data of our problem: There is an enormous amount of mistrust, envy, disbelief, skepticism, misunderstanding and miscommunication among people, at all levels, developed by their conflict of interests, which generates an endless war between humans, in various forms from the most obvious and brutal to the most sophisticated and perfidious. At an ordinary level, people’s mistrust is so high that if you try to offer something to someone absolutely free, the first thought that pops into their head is: “What’s the catch?” In other words, what is the real intention of your generous gesture? Isn’t that deplorably sad? And equally sad is the fact that this attitude did not develop without reason, but from previous unfortunate situations that everyone experienced from everyone else.
I mentioned in the first chapter a television program that revealed a huge American-led supervising network, countered by similar but smaller systems owned by each developed country on the globe. At first, finding out about such an impressive hidden system that can potentially spy on everything and everyone on the planet was shocking, frightening and discouraging. But on a second look, this appears like a rather typical fear-generated way of protecting and assuring the augmentation of the immense wealth each one of these countries accumulated, as well as the obvious expression of the over-reigning mistrust in the world. When a historical process starts on the wrong path - as our evolution did, based on fear, greed and selfishness - and it is not adequately back-fed by wisdom, then these are the kind of results that we should expect to have.
Besides fear, greed and selfishness, there is a fourth human trait that started to manifest itself relatively recently in our evolution and increasingly gained ground to finally secure an important role in our lives. That is our need for recognition. On its negative side, the need for recognition in combination with greed and selfishness generated a perfect recipe for an inconsiderate, ruthless, and corrupt individual and society. On its positive side though, our need for recognition, which was historically one of the most oppressed and persecuted human traits, also became one of the most revolutionary driving forces in the society. It was the intrinsic human need for recognition that gave most headaches and caused the downfall of all tyrants, dictators, inquisitors and oppressors throughout our history. What's more, our need for recognition was the stimulator of a remarkable set of capabilities - to learn, to search and to discover, and the promoter of the most wonderful and human of our abilities - our creativity - and this is our sixth essential data.
There is one thing in life that we should not accept or permit: waste. Waste of any kind - waste of time, waste of money, waste of energy, waste of human lives and waste of human potential and creativity - is deplorable. Waste in its various forms is the most senseless and counterproductive act that we humans allow ourselves, proving only ignorance, complacency and lack of elementary judgment. As a basic example, try to think of the enormous effort that has to be made to raise a child. How much care, love, knowledge, health-care, supervision and money had to be spent for each one of us to get to the adult age. If you consider the impressive size of this complex “investment” that is being made day in and day out for most individuals, you will have an idea of what a huge loss is the waste of anyone’s life in vain. Try to think of how much each one of us accumulates in the first twenty or twenty-five years of our lives, how much creative potential we have, and how little of that potential we actually put to work through the rest of our lives. Try to think of the unmatched joy and satisfaction that we feel when we create something valuable, and then think of how few of us, if any, get to reach and express our full creative potential in life. Then, you will realize the considerable amount of satisfaction and happiness of which we deprive ourselves. By comparison, try to think of how much time we spend completing boring chores, and other spiritless, unfulfilling, depressing, counter-productive or even ruinous activities throughout our lifetime. After contemplating all this, we must realize a very sad truth: There is an immense waste of human potential and creativity that we allow ourselves at the planetary scale, and that is the seventh essential data in our problem.
As mentioned earlier, after hundreds of thousands of years of human evolution, it is very distressing to see that our most influential trait is still fear. During our entire lives, our main preoccupation is still to worry and fear. We worry about our jobs, about our house mortgages and our car leases, we worry about our retirement savings and our healthcare; we worry about being tax audited, we worry to walk at night on the street, to leave our car without an anti-theft device in the mall parking or to leave our house without a lighting-timer when we go on vacation. We fear terrorist attacks, nuclear attacks, bio-chemical attacks or environmental attacks, and as a result of all this craziness we fear that tomorrow our children might not have a planet to live on anymore. We worry and fear everything imaginable, everything that, after so many centuries of evolution, should no longer be causes to worry and fear.
Is this the way we are supposed to live our lives in the 21st century of our civilization? Has anyone heard about happiness? Happiness has become something so intangible that no one even likes to talk about it. When was the last time that you talked about happiness in your life? We are so intimidated by this term that most of us are not even capable of defining it. It is like talking about God. Try to ask yourself or your friends for a definition of happiness and you will see how fuzzy everyone is about it. Then ask them to define fear or greed, and you will see how specific they become. In fact, nobody cares if we are happy or not - our school, our employer, our government, none of them teach us or help us to be happy. All this resumed into one sentence: Happiness is not on our priority list in life. This is probably one of the most profound mistakes that we are making in our lives, and that is the eighth essential data of our problem.
These are the main elements that are behind our problem, behind the deplorable state of our lives and society. Let’s review them once again:
First - People’s problems are caused by people, more precisely by “other” people.
Second – People are not entirely bad, nor entirely good. In average and overall, people are almost half good and half bad.
Third - Competition is the name of our life-game, survival of the fittest is the motto of our society, and this stimulates the manifestation of our bad side much more than the good side of our nature.
Fourth - The most powerful human traits are fear, greed and selfishness for they keep us ahead of the game in the competitive society, and they are behind our most deplorable acts and attitudes.
Fifth - There is an enormous amount of mistrust, envy, disbelief, skepticism, misunderstanding and miscommunication among individuals, corporations and countries, developed by their conflict of interests, and this generates an endless war between humans in various forms from the most obvious and brutal to the most sophisticated and perfidious.
Sixth - Human beings have developed a remarkable set of capabilities - to learn, to search, to discover and most of all to create, which is the most wonderful and human of our abilities.
Seventh - Despite our remarkable capabilities, we allow ourselves an immense and expensive waste of human potential and creativity, thus reducing considerably our ability for social growth and personal fulfillment.
Eighth - Happiness is not on our priority list in life, and this is probably one of the most profound mistakes that we are making in our lives.
Since the publication of the first edition of Terra City, four more essential data have been acknowledged:
Ninth - People are rather different from each other - have different backgrounds, different priorities and mostly, different interests. This is what makes our interaction so interesting and also so challenging. Still, the goal should never be - How to make us all the same?, but rather - How can we see a common goal that can help each one of us fulfill our own dreams?
Tenth - People act through actions and reactions. In the first instance, someone does something because s/he believes that's something important, right or desirable to be done. Then, someone else reacts to what someone did. The main difference between actions and reactions is that the latter tend to be larger than the initial action. When we react to something we disliked, we tend to over-do it, and very rarely do we know when we did enough to "pay back" the initial action.
Eleven - We people are very busy. One of the most perfidious aspect of our reality is that we are so well "trapped" into the current state of things, and also so busy, that a) we don't even realize what we are missing, and b) we are exhausted of time, energy and imagination to even think of doing something to change things for better.
Twelve - Contrary to our common opinion, no one is smarter than himself (herself) in synergic interaction with someone else.
These [twelve] pieces of data are pining down pretty well the main roots of our problem. Nevertheless, I expect that other people may think of other aspects to be considered and we are looking forward to receive their opinions at Human Wisdom and together to see how they would integrate in the data-goal-way model. For the time being, considering that what we selected so far is acceptably comprehensive at least for a first round of examination, let’s follow this exercise into the next step of our analysis.
A Human Era
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