You’re Being Conditioned Out Of Being Human

Sir Ken Robinson: We don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out of it.

What’s the world going to look like in 50 years? Will the entire world, from continent to continent, be connected to free, unlimited wifi? Will formerly barren landscapes burst with lush, sustainably farmed crops, reducing world hunger to zero? Will there be fully green cities, running on renewable energy with carbon emissions at zero? Will there be access to healthcare for anyone who needs it, regardless of socioeconomic status, to lower mortality rates, and nearly eradicate infectious disease? Will a 94-year old Tom Brady break his own record for oldest player to win a Super Bowl MVP?

Many of you are probably thinking, “Those things are impossible,” but before you click out of this article, let me remind you that we’re in the 21st century at the dawn of the Automation Revolution, while the system in which we work and are educated is a 19th century system from the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. So, yes, in our current system, those things are impossible, but that isn’t inevitable. Our system is costing us the contribution of millions of people who spend their days driving trucks, making sales, and micromanaging their subordinates, instead of exploring their creativity to discover their true potential.

Rather than lament what isn’t, it’s vital to begin from what is, which is where the work of thinkers such as Sir Ken Robinson come into play. Though Sir Ken unfortunately passed away last week, that doesn’t mean his calls for an education revolution have to pass away with him.

His work is painfully relevant today, because many of the worlds problems stem, not from inequality, systemic racism, or capitalism (though those don’t help), but from receiving an education that doesn’t allow children to explore, play, or embrace their differences. In an industrial world, people are conditioned to be compliant, to memorize facts, and to meet quotas, but human beings are at our best when allowed to explore our creativity. Because we’re taught to not question the way things have always been done, it costs us the opportunity to find ways to make things better.

Remember the embarrassment of answering a question incorrectly in front of the class? Or when you thought you had a great idea, and you were laughed at? Think about how it felt to receive a bad grade on a test or project. In the current system, failure, being wrong, and making mistakes are the worst things a person can do. This conditions the creativity out of children, and we become a world where only 15% of people are engaged at work (Gallup) — a world where over 3 million teens have experienced a depressive episode in the last year (SAMHSA). A world where only 14% of American adults say they’re very happy (University of Chicago).

By conditioning the creativity out of people, people are becoming like the robots that will be taking human jobs, and ironically, to prepare for the incoming wave of automation, people need to be creative. As Sir Ken said in his prophetic first TED Talk from 2007,

“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original. By the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They’ve become frightened of being wrong, and we run our companies like this — we stigmatize mistakes — and we’re now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make. The result is that we’re educating people out of their creative capacities.

We don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out of it.”

Sir Ken Robinson

Most of you reading this aren’t kids (if you are, go outside and play, you psychopath), but that doesn’t mean you can’t take something away from this: it’s okay to be wrong. It’s okay to think outside of the box and get your ideas shot down. It’s okay to be laughed at because you think or do things differently. If we want to leave future generations a world we can be proud of, we’re going make a lot of mistakes, but with each mistake, we’ll be one step closer to a world where children are taught that it’s okay to be themselves, take risks, and make mistakes. If we don’t start taking action now, the world in 50 years won’t feel much different than the world today, and that’s not something we can be proud of.

Put The ‘Comfort’ In ‘Discomfort’

I don’t mean to brag, but my mask collection is thriving right now. Back in March, I bought a pack of 12 different colored bandanas, and I’ve been able to pair each one of them to complete so many different ensemble combinations. They’re the accessory I never knew I needed (After typing that, I now understand why people regularly ask if I’m gay).

Speaking of an abundance of something, I have about thirty minutes of new stand-up material since the pandemic began. Most of it stems from my experience getting COVID, visiting the hospital, and how others have responded to world events. Sure, I’m still working on honing it onstage in front of socially distanced audiences, and it’s not all great yet, but the more I do it, the more I’m getting comfortable with what’s funny, what connects with people, and what doesn’t.

I haven’t done an in-person speaking presentation since the second week of March, but I have given some virtual presentations. Sure, I wish I could have a live back-and-forth with the audience and really get a feel for the energy in the “room,” but I’m learning to love the live interaction I get with Zoom’s chat feature. The last few months have been spent transitioning my speaking business to a virtual level, and it seems to be picking up some steam.

Nothing is as it was, but everything can be adjusted to. My life has turned upside down (not a breach baby joke), and now that I’ve shifted to looking for opportunities to adjust and grow, I’m finding normalcy in disruption instead of pining for normalcy.

And you can too.

That’s the beauty about us human beings: we’re incredibly resilient to change. If our ecosystem drastically shifts — say a volcano erupts, a drought strikes, or a pandemic rages — we have the ability to course correct faster than any other species. With the advent of the internet and our ease of access to an infinite amount of information, when a pandemic strikes and our way of life is disrupted, there’s an abundance of opportunities to adapt if we so choose. Our way of life is shifting to one with constantly evolving technology based in algorithms far beyond our grasp, and, within the next decade, our lives will be disrupted by this on a regular basis. COVID-19 is just a sample — a test, if you will, and I’m worried because of the amount of resistance to change I’ve witnessed.

But we’ve lived lives of general complacency, which actually works against our very own DNA.

At the dawn of the agricultural revolution some 12,000 years ago, humans were hunters and gatherers, built to adapt to daily uncertainty. “Will the weather shift and bring a great storm? Will I be bitten by a snake or eaten by a tiger? Will the herd of deer we saw yesterday still be in the valley so we can eat for the next few days?” Before humans settled down in fixed locations to farm, they were much happier, much more in-tune with their bodies and the world around them, had healthier diets, fewer instances of disease, and generally lived more rewarding lives. Anthropologists hypothesize that hunter-gatherers in the world’s most inhospitable climates worked only 35–45 hours a week and didn’t have to worry about mundane household chores (How can vacuuming be mundane when there’s the threat of getting mauled by a saber-toothed tiger?). Once humans settled down to farm, they began performing the same tasks on a daily basis, falling into mind-numbing routines. In many locales, the people depended on a limited number of crops, so that their diets actually reduced their lifespans, and they were infected by diseases originating in livestock. In today’s world, we settle down in one locale for many years at a time, enjoy the same foods, interact with the same people, and work the same jobs, sometimes doing the same task ad nauseam every day for the entirety of our adult lives.

We’re meant to explore, learn new things, and deal with daily uncertainty, yet we’ve shoehorned ourselves into a society set on status quo. Because of this, we resist uncertainty, which goes against our biology, instead of embracing who we were meant to be as a species, learning and adapting. Once a volcano erupts, early humans were quick to relocate to a safer place. Today, the volcano is this pandemic, and we’re insisting on staying in the path of a slow-moving lava stream while we choke on volcanic ash and refusing to wear masks. If we want to survive and thrive in the automation era, we can’t pine for the way the world used to be. To be happy, successful, and connected as human beings — since we’re all going through this on some level — it’s time to, not only get comfortable with discomfort, but embrace it.

Also, you too can crush the bandana-mask look.