Revolution of hope for humankind
By Lindsay Slogrove
Durban - Humans, bruh. We started doing it all wrong soon after we started scuttling along on the Earth.
We’ve granted power to philosophers, politicians, psychologists, thinkers, writers and other assorted “leaders” to convince us that civilisation would collapse into barbarism without their rules and policing.
We’ve come to believe there is only a thin veneer keeping us savages off the streets. That we are a terrible, brutal species.
It’s time for a revolution to crush this veneer theory.
In a wonderful break from the global Covid-19 gloom pulling at our ankles, threatening to drown us in a quagmire of misery, a man called Rutger Bregman has published Humankind, A Hopeful History, after years of researching human nature and behaviours.
Before getting to some of what he found, please take a few minutes to do this experiment. This is not his experiment; it’s another highly scientific exercise run from my home-work desk.
Roughly count how many people you have had some sort of relationship with: colleagues, friends, family, exes, business/service interactions. Anyone you have come to know at a reasonable level.
Now, using that baseline, try to count how many of them turned out to be really terrible people, those who had absolutely no redeeming features. You don’t have to like them: we all have those we find disagreeable, who are dishonest, with whom we just fundamentally clash and want no truck with. But it’s unlikely you’ll have more than a handful of people who are “bad”.
Bregman’s wonderful book (on sale in our book stores) explains how we are “programmed” to be cynical, to distrust others, to accept that we are sinners with dark angels lurking on both shoulders.
His work is pre-Covid, but the current catastrophe is a good opportunity to start dismantling the veneer theory.
His bottom line is that humans are actually more naturally inclined to be good and kind, particularly in a crisis.
If your mind immediately goes to the lowlifes who are stealing Covid-19 funds and equipment, or the snuffling pigs at the state coffer trough, you are not alone, and he does not claim there are no “bad” people.
Today’s humans are fed a steady stream of “news” that confirms the perception that we are all very nasty brutes. It’s particularly potent when we live in an atmosphere of fear, mistrust and misery, such as that seeded by the pandemic.
But there are billions more good, kind people doing whatever they can to help their fellow humans (and animals, who can’t help themselves).
People are contributing money where they can, helping with food banks and soup kitchens, putting themselves in harm’s way by tending to the sick, maybe just helping a friend, colleague, family member or neighbour through a tough time.
This is the humanity that Bregman describes. This is who we really are. We are good. And he offers powerful arguments to back it up.
If you’re not feeling so “good”, he has many suggestions to change your mind, like rethinking compassion and trust, and recolouring our world in brighter colours.
For the cynics - it’s not all kumbaya. It’s not naive. But it will challenge you to consider the possibility that we’re generally a good bunch.
A little bit of hope and kindness is not amiss right now.
* Slogrove is the news editor
The Independent on Saturday