Book Review: Humankind – A Hopeful History

Humankind: A Hopeful HistoryHumankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is like a ray of hope in the current times of global pandemic, inter-community disruptions, natural disasters and more. All of us need to be reminded in the intrinsic goodness of the humankind, even though sometimes it might be hard to see. The core idea of this book is that humans in general are kind and trustworthy. And the author builds on this idea throughout the book across diverse aspects like education, business, government and more.

The book has many interesting and well researched case studies like the real life version of the fictional story from Lord of the Flies. What might have happened on the Easter Island than the usually believed story of war, mass destruction and cannibalism. There is also an in-depth analysis on some of the expected questionable events / experiments like the Stanford Prison experiment, Milgram’s shock machine experiment and Catherine Susan Genovese’s murder in NYC. In all these cases, an alternate picture based on detailed research is presented which completely changes the point of view.

The models of our day-to-day systems will be very different and enriching when they are built from a trustful point of view rather that the existing models which are usually distrustful by default. There are interesting examples where the application of these principles has brought remarkable change. Management, of example in a top down manner with strict way of doing things can be counter productive. There is an interesting example of Blok’s model of management where small teams are given full autonomy which has been very successful and created a win-win situation for the company as well as the employees. As the author say, “Because nothing is more powerful than people who do something because they want to do it.”

Further, education is looked at from the opposite of current day industrial / factory model. Importance of play, where the children are left free to experiment and explore is highlighted. Agora model of education which give a lot of autonomy to kids to design their own learning paths is presented which builds much more well-rounded individuals. “You can’t teach creativity,’ writes psychologist Peter Gray, ‘all you can do is let it blossom.”

Next example shows how cities and governments might look like when then are run autonomously using participatory models of governance. There is also an interesting discussion of the Elinor Ostrom’s model of the commons countering Hardin’s tragedy of the commons. Finally, the author gives examples where even in the most complex scenarios like handling prisoners, controlling police or even wars, it is possible to bring a positive change with models based on trust and compassion.

Being kind in not easy. As it is mentioned towards the end of the book, “To believe people are hardwired to be kind isn’t sentimental or naive. On the contrary, it’s courageous and realistic to believe in peace and forgiveness.” Also this strategy won’t be successful in 100% scenarios, however as the author says, “ accept and account for the fact that you’ll occasionally be cheated. That’s a small price to pay for the luxury of a lifetime of trusting other people.”

This book is powerful and can change the way we perceive the world. It breaks a lot of myths and also discusses many counterintuitive findings like compassion rather than empathy is better when interacting with others. It also presents numerous examples where a culture of trust, autonomy, goodness and compassion can build much better systems. This book restores hope in humankind and shows a way where we can be the change we want to see in the world, by being kind!

Colored Perspective

The whole world around us is as it is. Everyday its is evolving, adapting and changing itself as per our behavior. Thus it always tries to maintain itself in an equilibrium state.

Even then each one of us sees the world from a different perspective. It is same yet it is not the same ! Everybody has something different to say about the world.

Here i recalled the story of the elephant and blind men related to this point. Some blind men were taken near an elephant and told to feel the object in front of them and identify it. One blind man touched the legs and said it was a log of wood. Another held the trunk and said it was a big hose pipe. Another held the tail and said it was like a rope. One man touched its stomach and said it is a wall. One touched its ears and replied that it was a fan.

Its ok if they said different things about the elephant, because they were blind. They could not see the elephant. But whats wrong with us ?? Most of us are all right. Then why do we fail to see the big picture ? Why can’t we see the world as it is ? Why are we so biased sometimes ? It’s strange that if something bad is happening in people’s life then they will blame the  world around them. But if something good is coming up then they readily take all the credit !

It is like we people are wearing shaded specs. We see the world shaded by the color of the glasses. And we believe firmly that whatever we see is real and obvious. So there is almost no scope of change in our viewpoints. Sometimes we are ever ready to fight that what we see is correct without even listening to others views ! Thus different people view the same world from different perspectives.

Examples in point – Some believe that the world will end in the end of year 2012. While others (like me) are sure that nothing so catastrophic will happen so soon. Some see the world polluted and depleted of its resources. While others contribute their share in doing whatever they can instead of just complaining. Some see the world filled with war and crime. While others promote peace and good will.

The world is great. It is as it is. It is not going to change drastically just by our thoughts. So why color our views about the world. Why not accept it as it is. And i don’t think it is all that difficult. We just need to remove our colored glasses. It’s as simple as that.