The History of Humans

I am easily frustrated by the many ways in which corporations and governments take advantage of average people. Advertisements sicken me. The stagnant low wages fill me with rage and resentment. The broken healthcare system in the United States is an abomination. Racism, sexism, and bigotry seem to be everywhere I look. Hypocrisy, idiocy, selfishness, etc. No matter what I shift my focus toward, I can find something unjust about the systems that support it. It can become overwhelming to be confronted by such obvious inequality and corruption every day.

While I’m not suggesting we merely accept these injustices, I am starting to realize that while things are not perfect by any means, they are a hell of a lot better than they have been in the majority of human history. I’ve been reading A Tale of Two Cities for the first time, and it is really highlighting this fact for me. Set in the 1700s the story is filled with tragic images of starving peasants and monstrous upper class tyrants. In one scene there is even a child that is run over in the street by a wealthy man’s carriage. While the father of the child is hysterical, no one seems surprised or even outraged. This is simply the treatment they’ve come to expect. The rich man feels no remorse and is actually irritated that he had to stop his carriage at all. He callously throws a coin at the dead boy’s father as if that is any type of compensation for the life of his son.

While I know this is a fictional story, I also know that it is an accurate reflection of the way things used to be. It’s a delicate line to walk between gratitude and the passionate urge to do better as a society. Of course, I’m not saying that the suffering of the lower and middle classes today don’t matter. There are real, egregious issues with our current system, but comparatively the most unfortunate among us still have it better than the majority of the population throughout history. And while that doesn’t erase our current problems, it is still something to reflect on and be grateful for.

Things are far from perfect, but I’m quite surprised and pleased by how far we’ve managed to come as a society. It really puts into perspective just how lucky I am that my biggest irritation from day to day is something as frivolous as advertisements on billboards along the highway. Oh, how the characters in that story would envy me, would quite literally kill to be in my shoes.

I’m working on finding that middle ground between gratitude and fighting for further social justice. Allowing my anger and indignation to obstruct my perspective isn’t serving anyone, least of all myself. Instead of coming from the hateful, entitled space I’m used to, I want to fight for what I believe in while also being thankful for what I do have. I want to make my voice heard, but within the context of hope and the belief that we truly can do better for ourselves and our community, rather than from a context of disgust and disappointment.

There are a lot of similarities between the elites of the past and the present, but as for the peasants and paupers (the group I would have found myself in) we have made monumental improvements. As with most things, I hold extremely high standards for my fellow humans. But placing today’s society in developed countries within the context of the societies of the past, shows that while humans are not what I hope for them to be, they could certainly be a hell of a lot worse.

What an absolute miracle it is that someone like me even has the opportunity to make a difference and have my voice heard. Some may have it better than I do, but to just imagine the luxuries I am able to take for granted is staggering. Glancing back at where we’ve come from, it’s honestly surprising we were ever able to improve things so much. There is a certain beauty and hope in that realization.

Despite my near constant complaining, at the end of the day, I am overwhelmingly grateful for the life that I have been given. Even with all the issues we are faced with today, I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything. I am so fortunate. And I’d like to spend more of my energy enjoying and appreciating that fact even as I advocate for us to do even better for the many, many people who are less fortunate.

Peasants in an Interior, 1661 - Adriaen van Ostade - WikiArt.org

What a Time to Be Alive

Arheološki portal - Medieval torture devices – Part 2

The other day I heard someone make a comment sarcastically thanking their parents for letting them be born in “the worst possible time in human history.” I didn’t challenge this statement, mostly because I couldn’t tell if they were serious or just being overly dramatic or hyperbolic. I certainly hope they don’t genuinely believe that. It really made me stop and contemplate just how lucky I actually am to have been born in this time period.

Most of the time I spend complaining about the ways in which I feel society is broken and as a result destroying the natural world around us. I lament the fact that I won’t get to live a long happy peaceful life like it feels my generation was promised by our parents and teachers. When I was a child, the future seemed like a fantastical sci-fi movie. Who even knows what types of unbelievable technologies we’ll have in a few decades? Will cars fly? Will we be able to teleport? These things seemed like legitimate possibilities at one point.

However, growth of any kind cannot continue indefinitely. Now it seems more like humans are on their way out rather than up. I often find myself worrying about what will happen in the next ten, twenty, thirty years. What will the world even look like? Will I be able to manage? Will I suffer? Will my loved ones suffer? While I still believe these are valid concerns, when I consider them from the wider perspective of all of human history, they seem nearly laughable.

What does it matter if someday things will be hard, if someday I may struggle and suffer? Throughout most of human history we were all struggling and suffering in one way or another for our entire lives. I have already been lucky enough to have enjoyed twenty-seven years of beautiful, easy, happy life. Just a quick google search of the average age people died throughout history shows that I’ve already been extremely fortunate. For the majority of history most people died in their thirties. Why should I feel so “cheated” that I won’t get to be 90? How arrogant. How small minded. I am more than grateful for what I’ve been given. Each morning I wake up is a true miracle, the best gift I could ask for.

In the modern era even the most unfortunate among us have more than our brothers and sisters throughout history had. While our society is still quite far from perfect, it has come so far! I feel ashamed for only focusing on how much farther we have to go while never giving thanks for how far we’ve come. Most of my important opinions and the qualities that make me who I am would have been unheard of, a death sentence even, 50 years ago. I am allowed to be whoever I want to be. I have rights and independence. I am an unmarried, 27 year old woman with no children, my own house, and a full-time job. Simply incredible!

For all the complaining I do about technology and the internet, I am still quite humbled by it. The advancements and inventions that our ancestors have handed down to us are the reason we are here today. They are the reason our species even survived as long as we have. With this laptop, even my phone, I am able to learn about anything I want! I can talk to people across the world, listen to an endless catalog of music, play games, make art. What a simply spectacular world that I get to be a part of!

I suppose for most of my life, I thought acknowledging how fortunate I am and how amazing the world is, would make me complacent towards the suffering and injustices that still exist. It’s certainly still important to work for social change and to make the world an even better place while we’re still here. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be grateful for where we are today. From now on I’m going to try harder to remember that, to fully enjoy and appreciate each moment I am given. What a time to be alive! What a blessing! I am so grateful.

What A Beautiful Life

The last few days I’ve been watching a lot of videos about what life was like in the Victorian Era. While the things I’m learning are extremely interesting, they are also quite horrifying. I discovered just how unsafe it was to be alive during that time period, let alone all of the rest of human history. People would meet their death doing things as simple as taking a bath, eating food from the market, having a bathroom installed in their home, having colorful wallpaper, etc. It seems as though there were unlimited dangers all around that weren’t yet fully understood or identified.

It’s very interesting to me how I am able to simultaneously marvel at human achievements throughout history and also be dumbstruck at our sheer recklessness and stupidity. On both fronts it seems incredible that we have managed to make it this far. It really puts a lot of things into perspective for me. Generally I have expected a lot out of the human race. Perhaps that’s because when we’re young we are surrounded with the idea that humans are the pinnacle of evolution, fabulous, unique, God-like beings. At least that’s the impression I seemed to get about what most humans thought of our species. Yet in every waking moment, I seemed to be confronted with human limitation and outrageous foolishness. It would be a constant source of frustration. People never seemed to live up to the standards I had set for them. Not even I was able to meet those standards.

History used to be one of my favorite subjects. But as we learned more and more it seemed like the only things that mattered in recorded history were wars and politics. These things are certainly interesting, but there is so much more to history that I would have rather explored. Learning about society and the way other generations lived awakens a fierce gratitude within me for the luxuries of the time period that we live in. So many simple conveniences that we take for granted were not so long ago unimaginable. I’ve been reflecting on the amazing benefits we now have such as electricity, running water, plumbing, cars, medicine, technology, the internet, the list could go on and on. Most of us tend to use these conveniences everyday without thinking twice about them.

As you know I spend a lot of time worrying about the end of the world. The end seems more and more inevitable each and every day. However, learning about the history of humanity, makes me less concerned about it for some reason. I’m left just feeling grateful that we made it this far. It seems like each moment is an incredible gift. It seems selfish and ungrateful to complain that I won’t get more. In my twenty seven years of life I have already had more pleasure than entire populations had in a lifetime. I’ve allowed myself to feel so cheated that I may not get to live out my life and die of old age as it feels I was promised as a young child. However, when I think about it, I was never even guaranteed the time I’ve already had. Had I lived in any other time period, or even in a different part of the world today, I might have already succumbed to some horrendous illness or accident. This shift in perspective has been extremely therapeutic for me. It has made me feel lighter and reflect on my good fortune.

From now on I plan to work on being grateful for each moment I am given. However much life I have left on this earth will be more than enough. How absurd it now seems to complain when I have so much. Gratitude is truly the cure for so many psychological woes. Perhaps there is no better or more powerful feeling. Even love itself is a form of gratitude. And I really do love this life. I love the many beings I have been lucky enough to share it with. Each day is filled with so many unbelievable blessings. Nice clothing and bed linens, a safe, warm home, a cup of coffee, a hot shower, fresh fruits and vegetables, clean water. How insane the people of the past would think us for finding anything to complain about or to be dissatisfied with. What a beautiful life.

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