As 2020 was winding down I got a chance to do some extra reading. The book – that I am still going through – is Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens. In between the many interesting points made throughout the book, a strong reminder was presented to me from the outset: a lot of what keeps us going as humans are myths – fictions, socially constructed ideas of how the world is, should work, and what our purpose in it is.
This is something that we should know as adults – we encounter it again and again and even if no one points it out, this is something fairly intuitive to understand. After all, it does make sense. In fact, I remember how groundbreaking I found the idea as a politics student when I was asked to read the book The Social Construction of Man, The State and War by Franke Wilmer. And soon after I suppose I pushed it to the back of my mind until it resurfaced years (dare I say, a decade or more) later.
We need others to believe in these personal myths in order to be powerful and to actually move a substantial amount of people.
This fabric of myths that holds societies and humans together is something that started from our hunter-gatherer ancestors – and over the millennia, we added to it to make up this really elaborate world we live in. Pretty impressive, if you think about it, that we managed to spin these stories that we collectively believed in and made into the glue that keeps us together. Religions helped to a large extent, as did our innate emotion of fear.
With this reminder, two things struck me:
- We need others to believe in these personal myths in order to be powerful and to actually move a substantial amount of people to work and strive towards achieving something.
- At the same time, we as individuals have the power to shape our own story – at the end of the day everything is socially constructed and therefore ‘untrue’. Hence, we have the power to dream, and then work hard to ensure OUR story is shaped the way we want it to be, and not what the people around us say.
With this in mind, one should be able to sit down and really think of what they want in life, and make a reasonable plan to work towards it. What is your purpose in life? How do you relate with others around you? What do you want to achieve, and what shall your legacy be? What do you take and continue from your family, and what do you learn from and change?
The beginning of a new week, month, and especially a year, marks an opportunity to almost start fresh – commit to certain goals and see them through. We usually fail at keeping up with whatever declarations or resolutions we make, but we keep trying.
As we start the year, it might be useful to reflect on this – what is it that we want to achieve in the long run, and what can we do today – or this year – to help us come a bit closer to that?
How do we want to write the story of us? Who are we, and what are we contributing in this world, our country, family, and social circle? Something to ponder as we start the year. Let’s make this year a fresh, meaningful stepping stone, especially after the one we just finished.
And for those with children, something to perhaps talk to your children about too, to get them started on this journey of reflection, self-awareness and goal-setting, no matter how young they are.
Have a great, meaningful and intentional year ahead!