Thanos snapped away half of the universe on my 43rd birthday (at least, that’s when I witnessed it in the movie theater), and the Stark-induced “Thanos-dusting” snap occurred on my 44th. As such, the topic of global catastrophe was on my mind as we headed for a family vacation to Italy a few days later.
Our itinerary brought us to Piano di Sorrento, in the hills above Sorrento, Italy, with a clear view of Mt. Vesuvius from our Airbnb patio. Each night, I stared at the ominous volcano, sipping wine, thinking a bit about global “finger snaps” and what would happen should such a crisis happen in our current era.
The fire of my thoughts was fueled by our visit to Pompeii, witnessing a city of riches and material wealth, frozen in time — complete with the skeletons of those otherwise unknowing humans who were covered in the ash and molten lava of the beast under whose shadow they had created their society.
Each night, I sipped my local vintage, wondering if and how we would deal with such a catastrophe, even if we knew it was coming.
Would the creative force of the human mind win out? The same force that gave us da Vinci, Einstein, and Edison?
Or would we resort to the programming of standardization and conformity that has been the dominant force of schooling for the past half-century?
One phrase kept ringing through my head: The greatest threats to humanity are apathy and conformity.
Well, here we are. As I write this, we are at what I assume is the front end of peak coronavirus panic.
Which side of the human mind will win out? That remains to be seen.
When I told this story to a recent podcast interviewer, he seemed surprised and maybe a bit skeptical about my Mt. Vesuvius story. I get it. Sounds far-fetched. So I’ll reference this podcast that I taped on June 3, shortly after returning home from Italy. As I said in that podcast:
“When we build a society of apathetic conformists, we are going to fail to meet the threats of the future. Because when you talk about those future threats, they’re going to be met by the creative class.”
Eerily, on May 20th, I posted on Facebook:
“The Thanos snap is coming (in the form of AI, natural disasters, the future of work, etc., etc., etc.) Will we be ready?”
Hell, shortly thereafter, I even had t-shirts made up for myself and attendees at my Freedom Club Festival that said, respectively, “F*CK APATHY” and “FIGHT CONFORMITY.”
Little did I know that less than ten months later, our country would be in the throes of a “fight” against a global pandemic.
Now, we will find out which direction we will take.
During the past week, I’ve witnessed some “smart” people who are great at “numbers-crunching” who are obviously in a panic. They look at numbers. They look at exponential increases. They share the charts and graphics.
And they panic.
On the other hand, I’ve seen some people criticized for taking a deep breath and saying, hey, let’s look at the big picture and see if there’s a better way. One journalist received a Twitter death threat for having the audacity to suggest we allow kids to go outside and play in the neighborhood.
Perhaps the current draconian measures are the only way. Quarantines. Self-isolation. Beach-goers threatened with police action. Millions unemployed at the drop of a hat.
Perhaps. I’m not an epidemiologist.
My concern is whether we are truly allowing “contrarian” views and suggested strategies of critical and creative thinkers to be heard amidst the noise of the #JustStayHome campaigners, many of whom refuse to entertain the notion that there might be another way; a better way.
Could this be the reaping of what we’ve sown?
Could this be the result of a permission-based society focused on standardization, memorization, and compliance?
During a recent workshop, I asked my audience what “superpower” came to mind when I say the names: “Steve Jobs, Einstein, and da Vinci.”
Several people, as expected, shouted out the response, “Smart.”
Well, I guess that depends on our definition of the word “smart.” Is it defined as “A student”? Is it defined by college degree? Is it defined as the ability to get a job in a university? Is it defined by which schools you attend?
If so, Jobs, Einstein and da Vinci probably wouldn’t fit that definition.
Having read Walter Isaacson’s biographies of all three men, one word comes to mind: Imagination.
These three men had the innate ability to hardness there creative flow of energy to picture things that had never been imagined before. And in each case, their contemporaries rejected and/or mocked them.
A small device that contains 10,000 songs in the palm of your hand?
The theory of relativity?
Designs for a helicopter…in the year 1493?
Edmund Morris’ recent biography of Thomas Edison makes it clear that Edison’s power of imagination was his greatest weapon. If, as the story goes, his elementary school had had his way (he said Edison had an “addled brain”) then perhaps the creative genius of Edison would’ve been smothered.
And, if Edison had attended a “mainstream” school in our current age, he likely would’ve been slapped with the “disorder” label and given power anti-psychotic drugs to “fix” his problem.
Apathy and conformity?
Or creative thinking?
How do you measure imagination on a standardized test?
Recently on Twitter, I read a post from someone who wrote, “Now is not the time to be a skeptic.”
What a dangerous idea.
Human progress has been fueled by skeptics; people who just knew there was a better way and utilized their creative minds to build that better way. I’m not just talking about inventors and scientists.
How about Martin Luther King, Jr.?
How about Rosa Parks?
It’s also important to realize that so many creative world-changers were mocked, ridiculed, or worse for having the audacity to buck conformist thinking to suggest that there was a better way.
So, there is hope that one creative mind can overpower the stagnation and inertia of a conformist society.
How about we make it easier for them to do so?
How about we redefine the outcomes of our schooling system from test scores, graduation, and college degrees to empowering lives of meaning?
How about we use this coronavirus situation as an opportunity to make the celebration of creative thinking the norm, rather than the exception, and reverse course on the command-and-control model of schooling that programs our humans from an early age.
Coronavirus won’t be the last, nor is it likely to be the biggest, threat to humanity.
Let’s rise to the challenge. Let’s believe in the power of our creative minds to act as our ultimate weapon.
Now is the time to be skeptical. Now is the time to think. Now is the time to attack the apathy and conformity that act as a host for the parasitic virus.
I believe in humanity. Do you?