What I've Learned Passing Through

The Next 100 Years by Peter Zuris

I've been in the business of life now for 67 years. I started in the business completely ignorant and after decades of curiosity about nearly everything can report that, as of now, I know a few things about a few things. One of my greatest regrets is that, whenever I'm done using the brain that has served me well, it will still be relatively empty of the knowledge that all of mankind has gathered up along the way. Bummer.

If I ignore what's in there that's either trivial or personal, what's left could be very useful to some other people. Perhaps writing is a way to offer that to any takers out there.

Of that stuff, there is one thing that is both obvious and profound, subtle and overwhelming. That is how little I'm both inclined to, and able to, accomplish, of significant impact, alone.

What separates humans from the rest of life here, is our inclination and ability to work together. Much of what we've collectively pursued technically is how to communicate better, increasingly in real time, and over wide distances. We've extended our reach from talking and listening to the nearest person, to being able to share thoughts around the world with many, many others. Good for us. All of us.

What has not lent itself to technological improvement so much is how we organize our interactions. It's a tough job too. We have to know when to talk and when to listen. We have to flit back and forth between the big picture and the details. We have to sort out who knows what and who either doesn't know or does know something that is incorrect. We have to carry the heavy load of our ego driven emotions into every transaction and, like we used to do with our little kids, keep them entertained while we go about our business. We have to rely on others and accept, for bad or good, that means giving up control. We have to agree on a spot relative to others in terms of responsibility, and reward and risk. We have to both give and take.

Of course the most intimate organizational challenge is with our family. It's taken me all 67 years to sort out my infatuation with the difference between men and women, to finding the one that complimented who I am best, to dealing with the friction of a different viewpoint on every issue, to finally accepting that when we fully appreciate the difference it becomes "viva".

From our family, our world extends outward to our friends, our community, our place of work or worship or commerce or service, to our country, to all of mankind. At every level we have to work out where we fit, how we can add, and to what degree our quirks detract. How we serve the greater good and what we must have in return.

We all do all of this with various degrees of grace and success and the net result is that the human race bumps along taking a couple of steps forward here and there, and, at least on the average, fewer steps backwards. As we grow from new to our final bow, most of us are pretty sure that things used to be better, but overall, somehow, despite this, very few of us would be willing to really go back in time to when we had and knew much less.

When we view social animals, like ants for instance or bees, or prairie dogs we see them mostly collectively. A colony or a hive. The actions of each individual seem pretty random while the whole seems very well orchestrated by instinct. We tend to see ourselves first as individuals, then we notice families or communities or companies or governments or countries. On the far distant horizon is the whole human race. While that's a health ego centric view, in the big picture, we each are more products of, and contributors to, our environment than we are the products of our individual lives. The life of an individual today in modern America, is distinguishable from the life of a native American decades ago, or a modern African, or a contemporary of the Emperor Caesar of ancient Rome, mostly by what and who were around each, not by their individual personalities.

To what conclusion does this all lead? We are all defined by our relationships with others. What we do and don't accomplish will be determined by that primarily. Who we are today is primarily the product of what, and more importantly who, we have related to in our past, and how. We have become who we are that way, and we will leave whatever mark we make through our current relationships. Therefor what is really most important to focus on is that fit.

The ancient Greek playwright Euripides, told us that "every man is like the company he is wont to keep". Important words. Who we are is, built on the relationships we choose to build, and limited by those that we either choose to break, or not to maintain. That will determine who we become, and what we leave behind.

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