Yuval Noah Harari claims, ‘history’s choices are not made for the benefit of humans,’ that we’re unable to claim one worldview is better than another.* Furthermore he purports the notion that cultural ideas are simply parasitical, inhabiting their human hosts, spreading from person to person and generation to generation in memetic fashion:
‘They multiply and spread from one host to another, occasionally weakening the hosts and sometimes even killing them. … cultures are mental parasites that emerge accidentally, and thereafter take advantage of all people infected by them. … The nationalist virus presented itself as being beeneficial for humans; yet it has been beneficial mostly for itself.’*
I understand what Harari is saying here but it feels like only half the story: the half that says, The stories we tell ourselves, as to how life on earth is best lived, are just that – stories, and we can tell ourselves better stories. Hugh Macleod and Nassim Taleb give me more hope for our relationship with ideas. First of all, Hugh Macleod proffers:
‘Helping to fix a company culture and helping a company to become more creative are actually the same thing. … Creativity and culture in the workplace come from the same place. … Creating culture is creating meaning within your organisation.’**
That culture is the product of creativity and creativity needs to be embedded in culture pertains to more than the business world. We can’t have one without the other. None of us were very old when we first stepped into our creativity, and at that moment a universe of possibility opened before us and cultures emerged – both large and small. But, where either of these exist for their own sake, we find absence rather than presence.
Nassim Taleb shares in his inimitable way how openness to another offers the possibility of a better culture:
‘Half of suckerhood is not realising that what you don’t like might be loved by someone else (hence, by you later), and the reverse.’^
There’s no requirement for most of the lines we have drawn between “them and us” when it comes to seeking the way of presence over absence.
‘”We unwittingly amplify commonalities with friends, dissimilarities with strangers, and contrasts with enemies.’^
How would creativity and culture best meet?
Compassion appears best placed as a place of hope, for stepping into another’s world. Any creativity or culture that unable to step into another’s world is not worth having, though it may be worth fixing – itself a compassionate act.
Two-and-a-half thousand years ago, Confucius expressed what we recognise as the golden rule:
‘people should not put themselves in a special, privileged category but should relate their own experience to that of others “all day and every day.” Confucius called this ideal ren, a word that originally meant ‘noble’ or ‘worthy’ but which by his time simply meant ‘human.” … A person who behaved with ren “all day and every day” would become a junzi, a mature human.’^^
Of course, this is still a story we tell ourselves, but it’s a pretty good one.