Familiar is Safe
Primitive humans learned what was safe through anecdotal trial-and-error. Our ancestors would not have survived if they acted haphazardly without observing each other. It became an evolutionary mechanism.
What was safe became familiar. And what was familiar was reinforced as safe.
We have evolved at our core to seek the familiar. We look for people that are like us or make us happy. We study topics that we like. The echo chamber that is social media provides only the familiar, luring us into a virtual world that is more “safe” than the physical.
We forget that every word we read or every thought we have shapes our next thoughts and actions. Collectively, we have become addicted to this comfort and increasingly reject discomfort.
You would probably stop talking to friends that no longer shared your interests. You might divorce your spouse if they no longer made you happy. You might stop using Facebook if you could clearly identify that it is making you depressed. (Oops, they were caught once.)
We recoil when we are presented with an uncomfortable person, object, or idea. What is uncomfortable is not familiar and therefore not safe. Some uncomfortable ideas light up our limbic system – a flight, fight, or freeze response – in exactly the same way that a clear-and-present physical danger threatened the life of a distant ancestor.
There is a paradox at work here. Seeking the familiar, an activity that was historically safe, now threatens our planet and is certainly not safe. We appreciate this on some level or we would not read that “business as usual” is not sustainable. Even the CEO of BlackRock, a company that handles $6.3 trillion in assets, is warning investors to invest in impact businesses.
It is time to understand that feeling safe is no longer the same as being safe. We need to question the belief that technology will unconditionally improve our lives. Every choice has an unintended result. It is time to move pragmatically and with purpose.
Everyone has a Part
If business as usual – the comfortable – is not sustainable, how can we even identify what trajectory we should be on? There is no map and nobody will force you to take any action. You vote with your dollars. There is, however, a clear first step to this journey: get uncomfortable.
DISCLAIMER: This video is not mine. It is mildly graphic. If you have young children, send them out of the room and mute the volume.
This video with a sea turtle made me uncomfortable today.
Every choice, made every minute, by every human, has consequences. Environmental destruction is not something happening in the far future. It is happening right now. There is no evidence that future technology will reverse what we have done up to this point.
“We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children.” – Wendell Berry
Humans are storytellers. To keep up with the modern age, stories are occasionally laced unnecessarily with facts and figures. We like this because it makes the story seem more credible. 79% of statistics are made up on the spot.
We now see scientific papers such as “Study shows beneficial effect of electric fans in extreme heat and humidity” in JAMA.
Someone will cite this paper in a story they tell me. Maybe I will not agree with that story because I have lived in a tropical environment and find no problem with humidity. The storyteller may further respond with facts and rationale to convince me that their viewpoint is correct.
Facts do not change people’s minds or behaviors. Stories and personal experiences do. Very few people have a personal experience with the environmental damage that is ongoing. Nor do many in this country have direct experience with pressing societal problems, such as poverty, human trafficking, genocide, or the sex trade. These tend to remain outside of our conscious awareness from behind the comfort of our glowing rectangle.
We do not tell these stories – the ones that need to be told – because they make us uncomfortable.
The Secret to a Better Tomorrow
Let me share my own story – a story about the secret to a better tomorrow. I have no factual studies to back it up, and I will only be able to smile and nod if you do not like it.
The biggest mistake we can make is to expect that someone else will create the future we want to live in. We all have a part to play, even if it is as simple as saying no to plastic straws. Those that wield the greatest ability – the billionaires, the elected officials – are typically too comfortable to care about building a better tomorrow. They do not want to be uncomfortable.
Shift Sight was forged from my personal experiences. I heard stories of optimism for humanity’s future, but our actions did not reflect our hopes. I was very uncomfortable. Shift Sight is a voice for those that recognize the danger of technology for the sake of technology – those that do not want our epitaph to be that “we did it because we could.”
That is the secret: get uncomfortable and get used to being uncomfortable. Feeling safe is not the same as being safe. We create the future in the present, one action at a time.
Ty is a Founder of Shift Sight, LLC.