How We Can Learn from Our Evolution

Have you ever read a book, watched a TED Talk, or heard a quote that made you take a step back and ponder the meaning of your existence? Check out this excerpt from Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari:

“The evolution of animals to get to where they are on the food chain took hundreds of millions of years constantly checking and balancing so that one species wasn’t dominant. Humans jumped from the middle to the top in such a short time, ecosystems didn’t get much of a chance to evolve along with them. Moreover, humans also failed to adjust. Having so recently been one of the underdogs of the savanna, we are full of fear and anxieties over our position, which makes us doubly cruel and dangerous. Many historical calamities, from deadly wars to ecological catastrophes have resulted from this overhasty jump…”

If you’ve ever wondered why humans can be such dicks, it’s because we haven’t had time to mature yet! As a species, we’re still in the snapping bra straps, giving Indian rug burns, harassing people for being overweight phase of life while we’re at home worrying we’re not good enough, insecure about our own status as the cool kid. Still, that’s no excuse for the way we’ve been acting lately. We’re at the top of the food chain, and unless Earth is invaded by the Yautja species from the Predator movies, that’s never going to change… unless we decide to dethrone ourselves.

“Tolerance is not a trait of sapiens. In modern days, as simple a difference as skin color, dialect, and religion has been enough to prompt one group of sapiens to set about and destroy another group.”

Whoa.

We’re so worried about losing our spot as the coolest kid in class, we kill people who are different than us because they’re “threatening us.” It’s not politics, religion, or skin color that cause violent conflicts, these are surface issues. Deep down, it’s our evolutionary software telling us that everyone unlike us is trying to murder us.

The good news is that we reached the top of the food chain, not because we made weapons and killed all of the other predators, but because we developed a brain that allows us to learn from our mistakes and plan for the future, and we also learned to work as a team to overcome obstacles. Our physical adaptations worked against us so hard, that the only ways to adapt was using our brains to learn and plan and teamwork. Think about it:

· We have no fur to protect us from the cold

· We’re slower than most of our predators

· We can climb trees, but we’re not exactly great at it

· Our nails and teeth are barely butter-knife-sharp

· Our children aren’t self-sufficient until they’re basically teenagers, sometimes later

So how do we overcome our self-destructive behaviors?

Knowing that humanity is the greatest risk to humanity’s success is a great place to start. Whether it’s violence, greed, or a basic “I’m-better-than-you” mentality, these behaviors are a result of our hardwired insecurity. To overcome them, just like we overcame predators and unfriendly climates, we need to take full advantage of our evolutionary adaptations:

1. Learn from mistakes and plan for a better future

2. Work as a team to overcome obstacles

Though our insecurities lead to the differences dividing us, it’s these different perspectives, life experiences, and talents working in unison toward a common vision that will better our planet, better each other, and better our species as a whole.

IF WE CONTINUE ON THE “I’M RIGHT, YOU’RE WRONG” PATH, HUMANS ARE GOING TO KEEP FEELING THREATENED, AND WHEN HUMANS FEEL THREATENED, WE KILL EVERYTHING.

That’s just stating a historical fact.

Let’s learn from our past, imagine a better future, and work together right now to start making that happen because there’s no reason to feel insecure; we’re the cool kids around here and we aren’t moving down the food chain anytime soon.

Why Y Should Be Your Favorite Letter

What’s your favorite letter and why?

Y is a pretty good letter. It’s not the best letter – that distinction goes to ‘D’ – but that’s only because I’m psychologically predestined to be drawn to the first letter of my name more than the other 25 letters. You are too. (https://psychology.iresearchnet.com/social-psychology/self/name-letter-effect/)

Anyway…

There’s just something about Y that really gets me going. Why? Maybe it’s because one of my favorite books is Start With Why by Simon Sinek. Maybe it’s the fact that if the Village People were to make their song about staying at the MCA, no one would ever play it at weddings since no one wants to go to the Motor Club of America. But the true reason is far more metaphorical: y is adaptable.

A, E, I, O, U… and sometimes y.

Sometimes? Y just decided to be a vowel sometimes? Y apparently ain’t nobody’s bitch.

At some point in history, the letter people (not the ones from the show, just a group of people who decided to turn sounds into symbols to make blogging easier) probably got into a heated debate about the letter. Chances are, there was a war that broke out in order to determine whether or not y was a consonant or a vowel, and the war ended in a stalemate, so in order to compromise, both sides agreed that y could be both.

Y transcends categorization and so do we.

We have this habit of shoehorning ourselves into categories because they give us an identity and make us feel safe, but they also limit our potential. Are you right-brained or left-brained? Lucky or unlucky? An optimist or pessimist? Once we’ve shut ourselves into a box, it’s hard to see beyond the cardboard, and even if you cut an eyehole in the side, you’re still limited to what you can see. Want to know why Republicans and Democrats can’t see eye-to-eye? They’ve trapped themselves inside of their own ideological boxes and cut eyeholes looking in different directions, so it’s impossible for them to see the same reality as one another. When we’re children, we’re told what we’re good at and urged to pursue careers involving those talents, then we go through our lives saying we’re “accountants,” “teachers,” or “HR representatives,” and stick within the confines of our job descriptions. This goes against our biology. Like the letter y, we aren’t meant to be confined – we’re meant to develop a diverse set of skills and perspectives so we can live lives of constant expansion, filled with new experiences.

Think of a category within which you’ve confined yourself. How is it limiting you? What new identity can you embrace for yourself that crosses categorical lines and is expansive, rather than limiting? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Creator – When you are confronted with a problem, you quickly shift focus from the problem to what actions you can take to create a solution.
  2. Innovator – You look at seemingly impossible situations and remain steadfast in your belief that a solution is not only possible, but probable by combining old ideas in new ways or by creating new ideas.
  3. Opportunist – You don’t waste any time thinking about whether the glass is half-full or half-empty; you take the glass to the sink and refill it.
  4. Leader – You inspire others to transcend their limiting self-perspectives by example and are focused on serving others in order to help them reach their potential.
  5. Learner – Every moment of every day is a chance for you to gain new knowledge and grow into a more rounded person.

How can you adopt one of these identities today?

Nothing in this world is as neat or tidy as the manmade categories we use to classify things, including the manmade categories we made to classify things to make them neat and tidy. It’s weird. This is why Y serves as a reminder that we are neither consonant or vowel; we are what we make ourselves out to be. The next time you’re on an awkward Tinder date and you get asked what your favorite letter is, tell them Y because you’d rather not stay at the Motor Club of America. You’re way more complex than a fixed self-identity – you’re a friggin badass, but sometimes it’s hard to tell when you’re trapped in a box, so shed your limiting identities and be more like the letter Y.

Education: How to Make the World a Better Place

Want to make the world a better place than when you found it? Make the people around you better than they were when you found them.

We can spend years discussing the merits of gun laws, higher taxes for certain people, lower taxes for certain people, term limits, universal healthcare, equality, everyone gets a million dollars, etc. Actually, we have spent years discussing and debating these things, and the world is improving, but I’d like to take a moment to bring a new idea to the table so it can improve even more: education.

This isn’t exactly a new idea – we’ve known the education system has needed help for awhile, we just keep putting it on the back burner so we can argue about what someone shared in an email. As the world changes and continues to get faster and faster, we have a need to become people who can live and thrive in a fast-paced, ever-changing world. Meanwhile, our education system is stuck debating whether it’s okay to say a three-letter g-word in classrooms, and its ultimate end product is employees who adhere to this antiquated system.

This has nothing to do with building better schools, free college, or school choice.

This is about making our kids better people than we were. Because they have to make the world better than it was when they got here, they can’t do it with the same ideas we had. We have a responsibility to teach people how to make our ideas better, how to make other people better, and as a result, how to make our world better. Can we say with honesty that our curriculum inspires this attitude? How we contribute to the world hinges on what we learn as children and, now that we’re adults, how we teach our children. How are we teaching our children to treat others? To treat themselves? Is it making the world a better place?

What if you had learned in preschool that other people are different than you, and that these differences are what bring us together? Conflict originates from the belief that it is our differences that separate us when, in fact, they are what make us better. As kids, we didn’t understand why other people had their own motives and were never taught how. To learn how to navigate this world, we absorbed the beliefs of our parents, friends, and teachers, but we never learn how to improve upon them.

What if this class existed? Something called, I don’t know, “World Betterment 101” (I’m open to new names) where kids learn to:

  • accept and appreciate the points of view and beliefs of others
  • work together as a team to complete projects (sharing and being open to ideas, communicating through listening, and supporting one another)
  • use their strengths to better their weaknesses
  • understand the importance of failure, rejection, and mistakes and how to use them as opportunities to grow
  • focus on the gratitude for what they have and for what they have the potential to create
  • forgive
  • treat, not only others, but their surroundings and possessions as if we are them
  • have faith in possibilities, even when solutions seem impossible
  • get excited to expand your mind to new ideas

Learning the alphabet, colors, numbers, and shapes may be kind of a big deal, but learning to work together and make the world better is even more important. Think about how different your life would be if you had this educational backbone?

I just had another idea: change how we see teachers.

Any time we have a thought about someone or something, certain pictures come into our conscious minds that elicit feelings. What are the first thoughts and feelings that enter your mind when I say the word “hangover?” “Congratulations?” “Relationship?”

According to Miriam Webster, the definition of “teacher” is “one that teaches,” but a teacher does so much more than just teach, they’re tasked with being a dynamic influence on the futures of many people. When you hear the word “teacher,” what do you think? For me: authority figure, disciplinarian, tutor, school, homework, educator, and “Listen to me, David!!!” come to mind. For many students, especially those who can’t stand school, the word “teacher” carries a negative connotation. To my teacher friends, “teacher” means: underpaid, under appreciated, overworked, patience, work, school, sacrifice, stressful, and rigid, but also inspiration, understanding, leader, and mentor.

Speaking of the word “mentor,” according to Miriam Webster, the definition of “mentor” is “an experienced and trusted adviser.”

When I hear the word “mentor,” I think of someone who guides, inspires, and pushes me to be a better me. When it came to my teacher friends, they thought of guide, wants to make a difference, wisdom, teacher, role model, leader friend, confidant,

Though changing the title of “teacher” to “mentor,” may not overhaul people’s perceptions of education, it will help. The term “teacher” also serves as an abstraction that de-humanizes them and serves as a barrier in building relationships. Who do you think you would have a stronger relationship with, a teacher or a mentor? When I think of the dozens of people who have had a huge influence on my life, only five of them are teachers.

What if students saw their teachers as experienced and trusted advisers? How would they treat them? What if teachers saw themselves in the same way? If you were a mentor to your students, how would you approach your work differently? What if the government saw teachers as mentors instead, would, say, standardized tests be as important as they are now, does individual growth become more important?

Keep in mind, these are just ideas from one perspective. I’m no expert by any means, but I did stay in a- Nope! Not going to say it. I did not stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night, and am therefore not an expert on staying in Holiday Inn Expresses!

Sorry about that. Sometimes I think on my keyboard… Back to what I was saying.

I’m no expert on education by any means, but I think it’s time to start thinking of ideas for solutions that move us forward from getting mired in the problem. For change to occur, new perspectives are needed. That’s all I want to provide here. The world needs new ideas, and ideas are created by people like me and you. As they say, “Ideas are what built IKEAs, but ideas can also build better futures.”

(How many times can I write the word “idea” in one blog post?)

How do you think the ideas I presented would improve people? (People = the end product of our education system) What long-term problems can be solved if we learned concepts like empathy, appreciation, and creativity at a young age? What else do you think children could learn so they live a life that revolves around making the world better? If I were to call you a mentor, what do you picture yourself doing to earn that title? What ideas do you have that create a better world for yourself and those around you?

TED is a rabbit hole of useful information. Feel free to get lost in the ideas of these dynamic thinkers, working to make the educational system a better place. Trust me, it’s much more illuminating than falling into the Infinite Facebook Abyss:

“Never stop asking questions because the world is going to keep needing answers.” – Someone who answered the question “When do I stop asking questions?”

“Because without questions, there are no answers.” – The person who asked “When do I stop asking questions?” to his Motivational Quotes 101 professor following his response.

Okay, how many times did I use the word “ideas?”

I’m Not White & Neither Are You: A Piece on Self-Identity

My name is David Horning, I’m not white, and neither are you. If you’re black, well, you’re not black either. Are you Latino? Sorry, but that means nothing. In fact, without man-made labels, race wouldn’t exist, there’d just be people who are easier to find in the dark than others. How you identify yourself and others determines your experience.

One thing is true about everyone who reads this: you are you and you’re the only one who is.

Your identity is never attached to a race, religion, ideology, gender, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status; your identity is whatever you choose it to be. Unfortunately, we get shoehorned into categories, and, since we live in a world that categorizes pretty much everything, we confine ourselves to these categories. Our brains are constantly working in an “If that, then what else?” manner, so when we look at our skin color, we confine ourselves within preconceived notions about what it means to be white, black, Latino, Asian, Greek, Inuit, Viking, etc. The same goes with the other classifications within which we identify ourselves.

Grab your water wings and get ready to jump off the diving board.

Sure, David Horning might be my name, but I didn’t choose it. If I could choose my name it would be something awesome like Birmingham Steele. Actually, scratch that; I like a little variety in my life. If I could choose my name, I would pick a different one whenever I feel like it. As some of my friends know, I have gone by several different aliases, demanding they refer to me as something other than David H, David, or David Horning in their contact lists. My given name may be David Horning, but one day I could be Daddy Long Legs, The Monitor, Distinguish’d English Gentleman, Bee Stings, Sticky Pants, or any number of things. Actually, I’m not David Horning, I just am.

The point is: your name and identity were chosen for you, but you don’t have to live your life within the confines of these parameters.

Why?

There have been billions of people with light or dark skin, but only one you.

There have been billions of males and females, but only one you.

There have been billions of rich and poor people, but only one you.

There have been billions of homosexuals and heterosexuals, but only one you.

There are 26 letters in the alphabet, but only one u.

Embrace these facts fact and allow your deepest desires, character traits, and interests shine through like only you can do.

I challenge you to think about who you really are by pondering the concept of consciousness.

What is consciousness and how the hell did your consciousness become attached to your body? No one can know for sure, but what we do know for sure is that our bodies are limited while consciousness isn’t. You have the freedom to think anything you want. You have the freedom to be whoever you want to be. You have the freedom to interact with others any way you want. What makes it difficult to fathom the infiniteness of who we are is who we’ve been told we are, which is limited and limiting. From the moment we’re born, we start being told who we are: a boy, David, white, Republican, Catholic, middle class, straight, part German and Italian, right-brained, a chip off the ol’ block, an only child (for the first nine years of my life, at least), etc. When we spend our entire lives hearing these things, they become true to us and we accept them as who we are which buries our authentic, unadulterated, uncensored selves under layer after layer of identities. If someone comes up to you and asserts that you’re an architect when you’re a musician, you’d probably think, “What gives you the right to tell me what I am?” This is what happens to us when we’re young, but we’re too young to question these identities forced upon us from the outside, so we accept them and they become who we are.

When you’re old enough, you can either come to the realization that you can change your identity to better fit your unique consciousness, or you can live according to the expectations of others who aren’t you.

When you do the latter, your inner you is constantly trying to alert you that you’re doing life wrong:

When you’re bored at work.

When you’re offended by the opinions of others.

When you feel insignificant next to others.

These feelings are just your inner consciousness alerting you that it’s time to give up the façade you’ve built for yourself and be you. Unfortunately, your identity tells you that it’s the job’s fault you’re bored, the other person’s fault you’re offended, and the fault of your circumstances when you feel small next to someone else. In reality, this externalizing is just your identity’s way of protecting itself from you realizing you can shatter it and embrace your true self.

The identities that are created for us are what limit us and those around us by creating conflicts based on these imagined classifications. Our identity is infinite. To deny this, is to create inner-conflict, which often leads to external conflict. Don’t be who others expect you to be unless you want to live in constant conflict with yourself and others.

There is only one you. There has never been another you. There will never be another you. Why limit yourself into limiting categories determined by others?

This doesn’t mean that I want you to fill in the “African-American” bubble on a survey if you look like me. This does mean that I want you to get in touch with the real you. Strip away the labels, categories, classifications, and limits you’ve been given. If you were given a blank slate, what would you do? Who would you be? How would it feel to express your creativity without fearing the opinions of others? How would it feel to love everyone regardless of who they are or what they do? How would it feel to wake up every day inspired to work on something that engages and excites you? Strip away everything you know and be you.* Create your self-identity based on who you are, not based on who others tell you you are.

I create characters, get on stage, and do silly things because that’s who I am.

Chatham Adams

You’re not white, and neither am I; you’re you. You’re the only one who is lucky enough to be you, so embrace yourself and let the real you shine through to others.

 

 

*People are still made uncomfortable by nudity, so I don’t recommend literally stripping. Especially in public.