Lessons from History: Appreciation of Earth, The Resiliency of Life, and Faith in Humanity

I probably bit off more than I can chew, but let’s see where this goes…

I have been on a history kick recently—everything from American history to early human civilizations to the history of the cosmos in general. Like most behaviors, it is hard to determine exactly why I’ve been on this kick, but I think it’s fair to say that this is the current manifestation of my all-too-human quest to understand how the hell I got here.

When considering the vastness of the past, it’s common for people to get a strange, disorienting feeling in their mind. Trust me, been there, done that. Our brains aren’t fully equipped to conceptualize time on a scale larger than our lifetime. However, it can surely be humbling to try, which may not be a bad thing. Luckily, we don’t have to stay in that feeling for too long though because learning about the past offers additional perspectives that are not only interesting, but are also applicable to how we approach life.

For example, consider the numerous phases Earth has gone through throughout its history. This might sound obvious to some, but modern humans tend to take the (relatively) stable state of our planet for granted. Think about 4.5 billion years ago during the Hadean Eon where Earth consisted of magmatic seas and was relentlessly bombarded with meteorites. For hundreds of millions of years, Earth was so unstable that single-celled life couldn’t even get started long enough for evolution to take place, which meant these basic lifeforms would briefly pop into existence before being destroyed, then briefly pop into existence again before being destroyed… again. This went on and on until finally things settled down. And thankfully, things settled down.

It’s an honor to be a part of this process called life. I know each of us in isolation is itty bitty and irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, but at the same time, we are all connected to a massive, cosmic process that has allowed the universe to become conscious of itself. I mean, really think about that. We aren’t just in the universe; we are of the universe. Us humans are a biproduct of an evolutionary history that began with those resilient single-celled organisms, which eventually evolved into more complex life and, ultimately, conscious life. Come on, that is pretty cool. Just a casual consideration of the history of our planet, solar system, and the universe as a whole can lead to a deeper appreciation for life, and through that appreciation, perhaps we can live more intentionally. Afterall, this is our only shot, and the likelihood that all the happenings that needed to actually happen in order for you and I to exist right now is virtually zero percent.

It’s almost like a miracle.

Anyway, here’s the perspective: A stable planet, the natural resiliency of life, and the development of consciousness itself is worth our acknowledgement and appreciation. It also may not be a bad idea to regularly call this perspective to mind. The impact could be profound.   

Alright. How about we consider another example? Let’s fast forward a several billion years to the latter half of the 1700s. Think about the complexity of events that were happening during the Revolutionary War and then roughly a hundred years later during the Civil War. Not to mention the Reconstruction Era, Westward Expansion, World Wars, Civil Rights Movement, etc. And that’s just the United States. Only ONE country’s history out of 195. Mind boggling, isn’t it?

Sure, the humans that came before us didn’t exactly stick the landing on every challenge, but they found a way to push the needle towards progress in most cases. That deserves our respect and maybe, just maybe, having some faith in humanity—at least a little bit longer. I know it’s tough with everything going on in the world. Hey, my faith waivers too, but even when certain obstacles seem insurmountable, it’s helpful to think about those who came before us and the challenges they faced. This isn’t the first time that our species has been pushed to the brink.  

But faith in humanity doesn’t need to be derived solely from a macro-historical perspective. We can look at personal histories too. People are overcoming trauma, poverty, heartbreak, and setbacks every damn day. As a therapist, I have grown to have a deep respect for this dimension of our collective human history. Truly, there is inspiration everywhere.

Sometimes we might have to force ourselves to see it because it’s all too easy to indulge in our cynicism. But as Marsha Linehan (one of the great pioneers of psychotherapy) says, “you have to believe even when you don’t believe” (AKA faith). Maybe that’s the secret psychological weapon our ancestors used to persevere, and maybe faith, in its proper place, is a necessary ingredient for us to live to see a better day.

So, here’s the perspective to keep in mind: Humans, with virtually identical DNA to you and me, have managed to endure and overcome seemingly impossible hardships time and time again—one day, one year, one generation at a time. We too can be a part of this story. Keep the faith.

One more concluding thought and I’ll let you go…

A basic decision we have as human beings is to decide whether or not to go on. No other species has to wake up every morning and, in one way or another, make this choice in the way that we do; it’s just us. So here’s my choice: I choose to go on, man. With the wisdom of history at my back, I believe it’s worth it. Do you?

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