Recently I listened to a podcast about WWI from Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. Dan does fascinating and well-researched episodes on all areas of history, but this one struck me in particular because prior to listening I didn’t understand the scope of devastation, destruction and human costs to that war. But it taught me a valuable lesson on just how lucky we are to live here, now, in this particular time and place. It is a gift that human beings have never experienced in the entire existence of mankind. And we so often take it for granted.
To understand the immensity of this gift, we must break it down to its core. In our homes we have running, clean, hot and cold water, refrigerators for our food, machines to wash our dishes and our clothes, furnaces for the winter and air conditioners for the summer. We have aspirin for our headaches and cars to take us wherever we choose. These “basic” things that most of us have are more luxuries than King Louis the XIV experienced at Versailles only three hundred years ago. The smart phones in our pockets contain more technology and information in them than Bill Clinton had access to as President only twenty years ago.
The comedian Louis C.K. was on a flight from New York to Los Angeles and sat next to a man who was irate that the plane’s Wi-Fi was down. Louis pointed out that in less than two centuries ago it took a year for settlers to travel the same distance, a trip that was plagued by attacks and disease and many would die before they ever reached their destination. “You’re sitting in a chair in the sky and you will be there in three hours—and you are complaining?” he joked. Good point.
In Freakanomics, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner point out that despite the conflicts and disasters that the news media love to report, we are currently living in the most peaceful time in all recorded history. Think about that: it is estimated that 108 billion people have lived on this planet. And we are the ones that get to live here now. The magnitude of that gift is startling. We have truly won the lottery.
And that’s the bare basics that almost all of us share. If you have a good job, you are blessed with something millions don’t have. Appreciate it. If you have someone that loves you and loves you back, you have something beautiful that many lonely and broken-hearted folks do not. Remember that the next time you feel irritated that your partner didn’t pick up his socks.
I’m not minimizing the real human suffering that we all will experience from time to time, but remembering the abundance of gifts we have been given that the majority of all human beings never experienced can alleviate the suffering, give us strength to bear it, and to remind us that despite our troubles, are blessings are so much more.
And the best gift we’ve been given of all? Because we are so much safer, educated and prosperous and don’t have to worry about our shelter, clothing, food or being eaten by a saber-tooth tiger, we can focus on making the world even better. There is still much to fix, and those living in the 21st century are better equipped to do so than all those who have paved the way for us. The best way we can thank the people that suffered and died to create the world we’ve been given is to continue the progress forward. Let’s keep it goin’.
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