So, while on honeymoon, Andrew and I have been reading several books together, ranging from The Golden Compass to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to The Jungle Book to Ishmael. Actually, nine times out of ten, he reads them to me to help me fall asleep. So understandably, this has now become my favorite part of our day.
Now, if you haven’t read Ishmael, it’s a strange kind of book. It is about a man and a gorilla, who the man has taken on as a life teacher of sorts. Every day the two get together, and the gorilla teaches the man why thing have come to be this way in the world. And if you can make it through the first 15 chapters of poorly written dialogue, you are taken to some pretty profound thoughts on life and the world.
In order to write this blog post, I have to share the excerpt we read last night:
“The world is a very, very fine place. It wasn’t a mess. It didn’t need to be conquered and ruled by man. In other words, the world doesn’t need to belong to man— but it does need man to belong to it. Some creature had to be the first to go through this, had to see that there were two trees in the garden, one that was good for gods and one that was good for creatures. Some creature had to find the way, and if that happened, then . . . there was just no limit to what could happen here. In other words, man does have a place in the world, but it’s not his place to rule. The gods have that in hand. Man’s place is to be the first. Man’s place is to be the first without being the last. Man’s place is to figure out how it’s possible to do that—and then to make some room for all the rest who are capable of becoming what he’s become. And maybe, when the time comes, it’s man’s place to be the teacher of all the rest who are capable of becoming what he’s become. Not the only teacher, not the ultimate teacher. Maybe only the first teacher, the kindergarten teacher—but even that wouldn’t be too shabby. And do you know what?”
“All along, I’ve been saying to myself, ‘Yes, this is all very interesting, but what good is it? This isn’t going to change anything!’ ”
“This is what we need. Not just stopping things. Not just less of things. People need something positive to work for. They need a vision of something that . . . I don’t know. Something that . . .”
“I think what you’re groping for is that people need more than to be scolded, more than to be made to feel stupid and guilty. They need more than a vision of doom. They need a vision of the world and of themselves that inspires them.”
“Yes. Definitely. Stopping pollution is not inspiring. Sorting your trash is not inspiring. Cutting down on fluorocarbons is not inspiring. But this . . . thinking of ourselves in a new way, thinking of the world in a new way . . . This . . .”
I let it go. What the hell, he knew what I was trying to say.”
Now this may not be as profound to anyone but me, and it may not even make any sense, but it has had my head spinning since we read it.
You see, our entire lives, we are taught to applaud the Type A personality, the champion, the fighter, the winner. We celebrate this mindset and incentivize it far into adulthood. And then, as adults, we Type A’s become the leaders of the “free world,” the conquerors of nations, the missionaries in foreign fields. We do these things because we have been taught that we are the best, that it is our duty to teach others to be like us, that we must convert the non-believers.
But then we look around and wonder, how did Vietnam happen? Or Syria? As an American, a Type A, a conqueror, a teacher, what have we given to the world? What was wrong with the way the world operated before we inserted ourselves? It was different than our reality, sure. But was that bad? Did these other cultures ask for our intervention?
And then I think about the mantra I have touted since I was old enough to have a mantra, “I’m going to change the world.” What does that actually even mean? Do I intend to impose my beliefs on the world? Teach the world some lesson that I know better than it does?
I’m likely starting a new job soon with an exponential innovator of a company, one that has the power and the bandwidth to solve some real world problems. But which problems are we meant to solve? For instance, if we intend to “eradicate hunger,” the majority of our solutions simply attempt to increase food supply, which causes population to increase, recreating our problem all over again.
I’m not sure exactly where I’m getting with this post, as I’m still contemplating how I will internalize the lessons I’m learning from this otherwise poorly written book. But I want to be sure that I commit my world changing to reversing the harm we have caused as a people, rather than imposing my beliefs upon other cultures that are different than mine.
Only time will tell how I’ll accomplish this.