Does humanity have a shelf life?
That depends entirely on us.
Do we have what it takes to avoid redundancy?
Are we able to change – innovate – evolve – transform – revolutionize – find ourselves – detox – delete – erase – break out – rock the boat – not go by the book – start from scratch – learn – unlearn – rewire – create – break the rules more than once?
Do we want to?
Or would we rather sink into oblivion?
We must look at ourselves:
Who – not what – is mainly responsible for the problems on this planet?
Is it not our attitude, our irresponsibility, our greed, our gullibility, our indifference, our shortsightedness, our negligence, our stupidity, our cowardice?
We are the problem. Therefore we have to rethink life and reinvent ourselves rather than always trying to master the world around us.
“What we call the beginning is often the end.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.”
(T.S. Eliot, playwright and essayist)
“The most radical revolutionary will become a
conservative the day after the revolution.”
(Hannah Arendt, political theorist)
We are not and never will be perfect. After all, we are not robots. But the human challenge is not to become perfect, the challenge is to become better. Becoming better means doing more of the right things, rather than just striving to do things right. Becoming better means admitting that we’ve made mistakes and will continue to do so. We can’t delete the mistakes, but we can change our behavior that led to us making them.
Becoming better is a fundamental task for humanity.
“The man with enough insight to admit his
limitations comes nearest to perfection.”
(Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, writer and statesman)
Can we trust ourselves to do the right things?
How will we know?
Who will teach us?
Will we still need leaders, if we can trust ourselves to do the right things?
“Act in such a way that you always treat humanity never
simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.”
(Immanuel Kant’s Formula of Universal Law)
The physicist and philosopher Thomas Kuhn thought that even well-proven new ideas are only implemented, once the generation who considers them new dies and is replaced by a generation who considers these ideas accepted and old. In today’s fast paced world, we don’t have time for that, as changing once is not enough. We have to embrace the necessity to change ourselves often, giving up the secret hope that some magical technical invention will take care of that for us.
Humans turn into “Wandelwesen”, a wonderful German word for which I couldn’t find an adequate translation. We wind up having more than one identity in a life that is not a linear development anymore. Life is neither a sprint nor a marathon. If anything, it’s a decathlon nowadays.
Change requires personal introspection, honesty, curiosity, courage, focus, determination, skepticism and wisdom.
As oxymoronic as it may sound, change has to become a permanent fixture in our lives, which reminds me of the nomads.
Back in the 17th Century, René Descartes said “I think, therefore I am”. Today, he would be wise to add “I change, therefore I will continue to be”.
After all, tomorrow today will be yesterday. One trend chases the next. The shelf life for trends, products, services and business models is decreasing all the time. Hence the shelf life for skills goes down as well, as does the one for experience and the authority traditionally derived from it. Assets can quickly morph into liabilities these days.
“When your horse is dead, dismount.”
(Sioux, native American tribe)
As we have seen, our true passions are often buried under decades of habits, education and – often wrong – jobs. One secret to success is the power to forget. It not only takes courage to try new things, it takes even more courage to forget old things. It’s more difficult too. We must forget everything that doesn’t help us make a positive difference to yesterday. We must forget everything that doesn’t create real, sustainable value. We must forget our bureaucracies, our structures and our silos. We must forget a system that has failed.
In short, we must forget everything that leads to us being forgotten.
“Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.”
(The Beatles, “Let it be” released in 1970)
Change is a clear cut, it is not a compromise.
Remember Joseph Schumpeter’s theory of creative destruction, the process leading to something new killing something old?
Will embracing change as a permanent fixture in our lives imply changing social norms as well?
What about truth? Does it have a shelf life in today’s rapidly changing world?
And what about ethics and values? Do they have a shelf life? Says who?
Are values negotiable?
In today’s fast moving world, what we do today has easily been forgotten tomorrow.
What happens to legacy, our pride in leaving something behind?
And what about our priceless experience, which can’t be taught and for which there is no app either?
Does our incentive to give it our best shot decrease in a world full of shelf lives?
How important is sustainability in a constantly changing world?
Can there be a compromise on values?
Can there be a compromise on a common good?
What is the common good considering the rise of AI?
We must value wisdom as much as we value skills and compensate accordingly.
Does wisdom have a shelf life?
We must insist on human priorities vs. technological possibilities.