The Sprinter and The Bridge
Over the last century or two children have been brought up in developed countries to think of life as a sprint, a competitive race they must strive to win more or less at any cost. The sprint has got consistently faster. There doesn’t appear to be much chance of it slowing down in the future unless, of course, we are all jobless. If we have no work it might become very slow indeed. Competition, that essential driver of capitalism, has worked well in terms of humans acquiring knowledge, sprinting and making life longer and generally more comfortable.
In the process speed has brought with it pressures that have detracted from some aspects of our behaviour. Society has largely given way to Societies. The former was a loose collection of people held together mostly by geographic and family ties who helped each other because they could see who needed to be helped. The village / kampong was not perfect, nor even totally fair but it was nevertheless an excellent structure.
As we became more urbanised trade associations were formed to protect the interests of those making products whose price might be threatened by cheaper overseas goods. They did – and still do – many charitable works and became, in the case of London and many other cities, respected Guilds. I am myself a member of Merchant Taylors although I have never made a garment in my life. My family were once tailors, you see.
Today society is significantly and increasingly based on those who would join together for purposes of worship, relaxation, entertainment, learning, good works and almost any kind of interest you can imagine, even thinking. So there are societies of Islamic Thinkers, Free Thinkers, Youth Thinkers, Christian Thinkers, Spring Thinkers and – perhaps most ambitiously of all – “Key Thinkers”. Is this last about aspiring philosophers or trainee criminals?
All this had led us to think of life as a race. I remember one of my American cousins saying to me that ‘he who ends up with the most toys has won’. He meant boats, cars, snowmobiles and so on and I am glad to report that he meant it in jest, even though he was a director of Larson’s Boats. At 89 he is still driving his pontoon round the lake in Minnesota.
Have we perhaps lost a little of the concept that life is not only a race but a bridge? Each generation creates something to pass on to the next. Today we think of that heritage as largely technology, to the point where technology is driving our philosophy and not the other way round. It has, in my opinion, reached a critical point that needs redressing. I am glad to see that my children and my grandchildren are taking an interest in the family history.
So I am resolved to encourage the idea that we are bridges between one generation and another. This year I shall send my five children and my eleven grandchildren a slightly unusual present to celebrate the winter festival, or Christmas as I call it. They will each receive a copy of SAPIENS A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. This New York Times bestseller will, I hope, inspire the thought that what went before was relevant, what happens now is critically important and what comes after is up to them.
As Eleanor Roosevelt so lucidly put it:
Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.
We wish our readers a very Happy Deepavali and also a very Happy St Luke’s Day