Perfectionism, mother trees, radical self care, truth telling and tear bottles….

“We may like to think of ourselves as autonomous, self-sufficient creatures, but large-scale crises emphasize that we are fundamentally interdependent. A crisis also offers an opportunity: a moment to pause and take stock of the society we live in, and to consider alternative realities.” (From The Social Instinct by Dr Nichola Raihani)

“That was the moment when I knew that I was going to be able to find a place for myself in the world, that women were saying, “We’re here. We’re angry. We’re going to tell the truth. We’re going to tell you our stories, and we want to hear yours…” Ann Lamott

Today’s post includes a variety of things. Firstly, I’m posting a photo of the painting I’ve been working on over these last two months. I’m also sharing podcast links and writing about (and translating) things that I’ve been interested in and reading about recently.

Perfectionism

Briefly, perfectionism, like most qualities and ways of being lie on a spectrum, and may show up in certain areas of our life only.  Literature suggests that there is substantial variability among people both in the level of perfectionism and in the particular elements that their perfectionist tendencies manifest. Understandably, people can also differ in the life circumstances that likely contributed to their perfectionism. Also, as mentioned on the Being Well podcast mentioned below it is good to know when and how to dial up our perfectionism when we need it and how to dial it back when it’s not useful to us. Perfectionism can be explored through different lens. There are now several studies that link perfectionism with insecure attachment, and also suggest that insecure attachment can be associated with interpersonal forms of perfectionism. Perfectionism is often a survival strategy developed early on. For instance, children who are treated in ways that restrict their sense of autonomy or who are over-controlled are left with a lasting sense of shame and doubt. Perfectionism is one way of responding to this. The focus of perfectionists can be on a need to perfect the self or / and on doing something perfectly / creating something that is perfect, which might be less problematic. Perfectionism is likely to be bound up with anxiety and it can undermine success and decrease the enjoyment derived from one’s successes and accomplishments.  Brene Brown claims that “understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism hampers success…… Perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from taking flight…”.

More on Rick & Forrest Hanson’s Being Well podcast: Moving Past Perfectionism

Trees

In the previous post I referred to forest ecologist, Dr Suzanne Simard. In these two podcasts: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EuupJGko9_0     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s8V0IJ11CoE  we get an idea of how trees are part of a complex and interdependent circle of life and how forests are connected through underground mycorrhizal networks, which help them communicate and share resources and support.

An excerpt from her book: “Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest”

“I set out on scientific expeditions to figure out where we had gone so very wrong and to unlock the mysteries of why the land mended itself when left to its own devices—as I’d seen happen when my ancestors logged with a lighter touch. …. The trees soon revealed startling secrets. I discovered that they are in a web of interdependence, linked by a system of underground channels, where they perceive and connect and relate with an ancient intricacy and wisdom that can no longer be denied. I conducted hundreds of experiments, with one discovery leading to the next, and through this quest I uncovered the lessons of tree-to-tree communication, of the relationships that create a forest society. The evidence was at first highly controversial, but the science is now known to be rigorous, peer-reviewed, and widely published….”

Tear bottles

Tear bottles or tear catchers or lachrymatory are basically small ornamental glass vessels usually made from blown glass. It is suggested that they are part of ancient mourning traditions and have been around since ancient Middle Eastern and ancient Roman and Greek societies, where they were filled with tears and placed in burial sites as symbols of love, grief and respect. They have been found in Greek and Roman tombs. This also seems to have been a common practice in the Jewish culture. The metaphor of the tear bottle is also used in the Old Testament Psalm 56:8:“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” Some scholars however, suggest that these small bottles held perfumes rather than tears. In an episode of Insights at the Edge on how Radical Self Care Changes Everything writer Ann Lamott describes through her personal experiences how our childhoods shape our sense of self and self-image, and how, especially in the past, girls were trained to be “flight attendants” and to see to everybody’s needs. Emotions, sensitivity and artistic proclivities were often not welcomed and it was preferable that these experiences remained out of sight, buried like tear bottles in some sense. She says as a child she needed to direct her tears into an empty tear bottle…

On the podcast she discusses why active self-care is a feminist issue. She says: “…..little by little, we’re going to stick together and we’re going to take tiny little segments of your own emotional acre. You…. get to have your own emotional acre, and you get to garden it or not garden it as you choose, and people don’t get to burst through the gates anymore and insist on you doing it their way. You get to do it your way, and however you see it, however you see you, however you see the earth on which you stand, that’s how we’re going to do it,” that’s what radical self-acceptance means to me…”

She also talks about truth telling and the joy of seeing oneself reflected in art and literature. She says: “These writers.…. little by little, they were telling you that the way home was going to be in telling this kind of truth you’d never been allowed to tell before, and in noticing that you were very, very depleted by all the life force and energy in you going out to others, to the professors, to the male teachers, to the authority figures, to the government. It was all men….. They taught us to sit together. They taught us to listen. What they taught us to do is to listen to other women and girls and to hear that we were all in the same boat, that this was an institutionalized oppression against power, the terrifying power of women….. Women telling the truth, both genders telling the truth, marginalized people saying how enraged they were at their treatment, at the way their children were treated, at the way their old and invisible parents were treated and warehoused, gave me the belief in myself that the most precious thing you had was your own truth, and at the same time, the most extraordinary thing you had to share was your version of things.”

Trees

‘And so, as the train crossed the plain, she thought that trees were not to be pitied. Because trees live through their roots and through their roots they fruit and are redeemed’ Margarita Lyberaki

“The fireball produced by the nuclear explosion reached temperatures equivalent to the sun— millions of degrees. It was like a lunar landscape or what I imagine Dante’s Inferno might look like. Scientists predicted that nothing would grow for decades. But, amazingly, two five-hundred-year-old camphor trees had survived. Only the lower half of their trunks remained, and from that most of the branches had been torn off. Not a single leaf remained on the mutilated trees. But they were alive….. I was taken to see one of the survivors. It’s now a large tree but its thick trunk has cracks and fissures, and you can see it’s all black inside. But every spring that tree puts out new leaves…. Many Japanese regard it as a holy monument to peace and survival; and prayers, written in tiny kanji characters on parchment, had been hung from the branches in memory of all those who died. I stood there, humbled by the devastation we humans can cause and the unbelievable resilience of nature.” (Jane Goodall / The Book of Hope)

I’ve recently been trying to collect information to create a family tree on my mother’s family. However, requesting information about her ancestors from the municipal registry has been fruitless so far. A few years ago I had completed a brief online course to see how we go about collecting and accessing data to create a family tree. Of course, things are not the same in all countries and record keeping varies, but a couple of years ago I was able to access the recorded data available at the local registry office for my father’s family even though the information did not go many generations back. So, I was expecting more assistance and success this time… Anyway, this process reminded me of a chapter in a personal narrative project I engaged periodically over several years. A few extracts nelow:

Trees

“….  On the first page the author writes: ‘Since when she was little she had felt sorry for the trees, she had felt tenderness and mercy for them. She remembered that still a child she had asked her mother: “Mama, why do trees not walk?” And she had responded: “They have roots, my child.” Then she would go and hug their trunks and whisper words of consolation. And they used to bend and moan’ (The Trees, 1995, Margarita Lyberakis).

…… I carry many stories and memories of trees …….  of a camping holiday among tall poplar trees that created a vast mosaic of shimmering patches of sunlight on my skin and on the ground, and of the beautiful orange tree orchards I see through the car window as we drive across the countryside on the Greek mainland, of my uncle’s small lemon orchard near the sea, the lyrics of an old song and the film ‘Lemon Tree’ that my husband and I had watched one warm summer night in an open cinema with huge bougainvillea bushes and café tables in the centre of Athens. The film was about fences, courage and common humanity. A man in the film says: ‘trees are like people; they have souls; they have feelings’…..

When we arrived in Greece my father planted a small olive grove. For years he took care of the trees and picked the fruit. These trees grow on soft land that is very close to the sea that is almost impossible to swim in because thick sea-weed has aggressively taken over the sea bed. During one of my trips to my father’s hometown I walked among the trees and I felt connected to the earth under my feet as I listened to its stories and myths. The olive tree is one of the most beloved trees in Greece, and legend has it that Zeus proposed a contest between Athena and Poseidon for the control of Athens. Poseidon struck the hard rock of the Acropolis with his three-pronged trident, which unleashed a spring of sea water, whereas the goddess Athena planted a small olive tree, The Athenians chose Athena’s gift and the olive tree became an important part of Greek life and diet, and olive wreaths were worn by brides and awarded to Olympic victors. Traditionally, the olive tree is a symbol of peace and friendship and I think the origins of using an olive branch as a symbol of peace lie in ancient Greek and Rome culture, I read somewhere that an olive branch signifies peace because due to their slow growth, olive trees are not cultivated during war time, and so they are believed to be peace-time trees…

…… Trees are like people. Some are firmly rooted and some have eroded roots. They withstand the elements, they sway this way and that, they bend and kneel and then they stand upright again and they bloom and give fruits. They grow, sometimes against all odds, in depleted soil and arid land. They too, endure, evolve and shed the old and unwanted. They are cut down, burnt down, transformed or mutated and twisted out of shape, given a different form or name. They branch out and communicate with other trees and their roots touch and mingle underground sharing the moisture and the nourishment the earth provides. Trees communicate and are connected to other trees through a network of soil fungi that allows the sharing of information and nutrients. Scientists have found that when they are attacked by insects, they can flood their leaves with noxious chemicals to repel unwanted visitors, but what is more fascinating is that they warn other trees by releasing chemicals into the wind and possibly through their network of roots.

Amazingly, trees even favour their offspring. The ecologist Suzanne Simard says “We set about an experiment, and we grew mother trees with kin and stranger’s seedlings. And it turns out they do recognize their kin. Mother trees colonize their kin with bigger mycorrhizal networks. They send them more carbon below ground. They even reduce their own root competition to make elbow room for their kids. When mother trees are injured or dying, they also send messages of wisdom on to the next generation of seedlings. So we’ve used isotope tracing to trace carbon moving from an injured mother tree down her trunk into the mycorrhizal network and into her neighbouring seedlings, not only carbon but also defense signals. And these two compounds have increased the resistance of those seedlings to future stresses. So trees talk.”

Forester and writer, Peter Wohlleben, draws on scientific discoveries to also describe how trees are like our human families: tree parents communicate with their children, support them as they grow, share nutrients with the ones that are sick or weak, and warn each other of impending dangers. The following is a short extract from his book: “When trees grow together, nutrients and water can be optimally divided among them all so that each tree can grow into the best tree it can be. If you “help” individual trees by getting rid of their supposed competition, the remaining trees are bereft. They send messages out to their neighbours in vain, because nothing remains but stumps. Every tree now muddles along on its own, giving rise to great differences in productivity. Some individuals photosynthesize like mad until sugar positively bubbles along their trunk. As a result, they are fit and grow better, but they aren’t particularly long-lived. This is because a tree can be only as strong as the forest that surrounds it. And there are now a lot of losers in the forest. Weaker members, who would once have been supported by the stronger ones, suddenly fall behind. Whether the reason for their decline is their location and lack of nutrients, a passing malaise, or genetic makeup, they now fall prey to insects and fungi…….”

The well-being of trees depends on community and when the supposedly feeble trees disappear it impacts the whole community of trees even the giants. Thich Nhat Hanh says that “people normally cut reality into compartments, and so are unable to see the interdependence of all phenomena. To see one in all and all in one is to break through the great barrier which narrows one’s perception of reality….” Everything in nature seems to point to the reality of our inescapable interconnectedness, the value of diversity and the need for a care ideal…….”

HOPE                                                   Edited

“Let us use the gift of our lives to make this a better world. For the sake of our children and theirs. For the sake of those struggling in poverty. For the sake of the lonely. And for the sake of our brothers and sisters in the natural world— the animals, the plants, the trees. Please, please rise to the challenge, inspire and help those around you, play your part. Find your reasons for hope and let them guide you onward.”  Jane Goodall

“The biggest gift you can give is to be absolutely present, and when you’re worrying about whether you’re hopeful or hopeless or pessimistic or optimistic, who cares? The main thing is that you’re showing up, that you’re here and that you’re finding ever more capacity to love this world because it will not be healed without that. That was what is going to unleash our intelligence and our ingenuity and our solidarity for the healing of our world.”  Joanna Macy

“Hopelessness is the opposite of justice…” Dan Siegel

Today’s post touches on HOPE – hope seen from different angles. My plan was to also share a painting I’ve been working on this autumn, but it’s not quite ready yet, so instead I’m sharing a few ink sketches I’ve been making in between painting. I’d also like to share the links of Part 1 and 2 of the Wellbeing podcasts on the ten key inner strengths and psychological skills [benevolence; patience;  curiosity and search for truth; self regulation; grit; joy; cognitive restructuring; humor; the wild spirit and finding meaning in life] that Dr Rick and Forrest Hanson feel they could not live without: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=urVXKWhL   and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wS-4g1DkMTg

An extract from the podcasts

And then you begin to realize – this is a costume ball. Everybody, including the people that scare you, or you think you have to please or win their approve of, they roll out of bed stark naked one way or another, they’re naked under all that stuff, and they put on their costumes, they put on their makeup, they put on their fancy headdress, now they start speaking the lines that have been given to them – what a stupid play…… Sometimes you have to act like you take it seriously, but much of the time, what a joke…I mean that like a stage play, and how we all have our roles, and our lines, and our scripts…… And you can start to extend that out into these very important systems. And you kind of bore down to the core of them, and you realize that not everyone really knows what’s going on, maybe nobody knows exactly what’s going on.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I will begin with a personal story. About eight years ago I was part of an outreach programme supporting unemployed people. The first day I arrived at the place I was going to work for the next few months Nikos Kazantzakis’ epitaph was written on the white board in big print and permanent ink. It read:“I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.” Inevitably I got to take it in each time I glanced at the board. So every day I pondered on it like a Zen koan trying to fully decipher it. Kazantzakis believed that we need to accept our cognitive limitations when it comes to understanding reality, to come to terms with our struggles around the meaning of life and to let go of hope. However, the translation of the particular phrase “I hope for nothing”, which is the literal translation, has been questioned. Some think that “I expect nothing” captures Kazantzakis’ spirit more precisely. Kazantzakis was influenced by Nietzsche’s ideas and by Buddhist teachings. Therefore, he might have been referring to the letting go of expectations and desires of particular favorable outcomes and fear and worry about the unknown future. He was probably referring to being more present and grounded in reality and accepting of what is in the here and now rather than being opposed to optimism, agency and faith in possibilities or change. Like Socrates his optimism would have been based on reality, logic and reason, kindness, beauty and truth. Rather than engaging with illusionary hopeful scenarios and passive wishful thinking he believed that the naked truth about the human condition and society and full acceptance of reality were a more valorous stance. Kazantzakis wrote: “The faith most devoid of hope seemed to me not the truest, perhaps, but surely the most valorous. I considered the metaphysical hope alluring bait which true men do not condescend to nibble. I wanted whatever was most difficult, in other words most worthy of man, of the man who does not whine, entreat, or go about begging.”After all, false hope can reinforce despair and immobilize, and frequent doses of frustrated hope can lead to distress and disempowerment.

While accepting the power of Kazantzakis’ work, there are many other aspects of hope that we can explore.  So, in this second part on hope I will explore this aspect of hope that feels innate and part of our survival strategies. It seems that our ability to cultivate hope is deeply interwoven with our capacity to recover from adversity and loss, to heal traumas, to bear the unbearable, to change and reclaim agency. Lack of hope can lead to our giving up on projects and can deflate our capacity to persevere and keep going when things get tough. Hopelessness can undermine our capacity not only to discern possibilities, but to literally survive. And if we consider hopelessness at the level of communities or societies we see that the higher the levels of hopelessness among the people the greater the presence of injustice and oppression. Dan Siegel says that “hopelessness is the opposite of justice.” A kind of vicious cycle is created as hopelessness leads to passivity and disempowerment, which in turn allows oppression and injustice to rise, which in turn contribute to the sense of hopelessness. So, the cultivation of hope can become a kind of disruptor and can motivate us to take action. In their new book, The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times, Jane Goodall and Doug Abrams write: “Hope is often misunderstood. People tend to think that it is simply passive wishful thinking: I hope something will happen but I’m not going to do anything about it. This is indeed the opposite of real hope, which requires action and engagement…” In this book hope is mostly discussed in relation to environmental destruction and climate change, but the same ideas are relevant to other areas of our life.

On a similar note Joanna Macy talks about active hope in relation to the environmental and climate crisis. She sums this up in the extract below:

Active Hope is not wishful thinking.
Active Hope is not waiting to be rescued by some savior.
Active Hope is waking up to the beauty of life on whose behalf we can act.
We belong to this world.
The web of life is calling us forth at this time.
We’ve come a long way and are here to play our part.
With Active Hope we realize that there are adventures in store,
strengths to discover, and comrades to link arms with.
Active Hope is a readiness to discover the strengths in ourselves and in others;
a readiness to discover the reasons for hope and the occasions for love.
A readiness to discover the size and strength of our hearts,
our quickness of mind, our steadiness of purpose,
our own authority, our love for life,
the liveliness of our curiosity,
the unsuspected deep well of patience and diligence,
the keenness of our senses, and our capacity to lead.
None of these can be discovered in an armchair or without risk.”

Jane Goodall understands hope not so much as an emotion, but a survival strategy, an innate survival mechanism. Chan Hellman who has conducted research on hope also believes that rather than hope being an emotion it is a way of thinking and in this sense it can be cultivated and taught even to very young children. Goodall says: “Actually, it’s a survival trait……It is a human survival trait and without it we perish.” She says that hope enables us to keep going in the face of adversity, but it also requires action along with our desire, when this is possible for there are times when it is not possible to take action. She gives an example in her book: “If you’re in a cell in a prison where you’ve been thrown for no good reason, you can’t take action, but you can still hope to get out. I’ve been communicating with a group of conservationists who have been tried and given long sentences for putting up camera traps to record the presence of wildlife. They’re living in hope for the day they’re released through the actions of others, but they can’t actually take action themselves.” Anthony Ray Hinton, a man who was wrongly accused of murder and convicted to three decades of unjust imprisonment says that he cultivated hope through visualizing. His imaginary life allowed him to escape his surroundings and endure the unbearable. He called this borrowed hope.  In relation to seemingly hopeless situations Doug Abrams quotes concentration camp survivor Edith Eger, who says that “people who wonder how you can have hope in seemingly hopeless situations, like a death camp, confuse hope with idealism. Idealism expects everything to be fair or easy or good. She says it’s a defense mechanism not unlike denial or delusion. Hope, she says, does not deny the evil but is a response to it.”

The research on hope has found that hope is quite different from wishing or fantasizing and that it’s one of the most significant predictors of our capacity to thrive or succeed. Hope leads to future success in a way that wishful thinking does not. While both involve thinking about the future with rich imagery, only hope sparks action directed toward the hoped-for goal. In the book there is reference to one meta-analysis of over a hundred hope studies that found that hope leads to a 12% increase in academic performance, a 14% increase in workplace outcomes, and a 14% boost in happiness. Hope science has identified the components that are essential for any lasting sense of hope. First we need to have realistic goals to pursue and realistic pathways or identified strategies to achieve them. We also need faith and confidence in ourselves, and the social support to help us overcome adversity along the way. Doug Abrams believes that “Hope is a social gift, one that is nurtured and sustained by those around us. Each of us has a web of hope that supports, encourages, and uplifts us throughout our lives.” Finally we need agency. In the Wellbeing podcasts mentioned above agency includes an inner locus of control, and also, having the sense of being a cause rather than an effect. It’s being active rather than passive, taking initiative and directing your life rather than being swept along. Also, agency is central to grit since without it, a person can’t mobilize other internal resources for coping. Trauma and adversity can rob us of our agency and will power because being in a survival mode influences the type of goals we have. Chan Hellman suggests that when we are stressed or fearful we tend to have short term, avoidant goals, rather than “achievement” type goals. We also have difficulty in finding pathways and support to move beyond barriers and obstacles. Trauma and adversity literally drain our agency. He claims that the loss of hope is a process, which involves anger, despair and finally apathy. We are only devoid of hope when we experience apathy, because even during despair we still have mental power and agency, but the pathways are blocked.  Often both hope and despair are active in the change process and they often exist in a dialectical relationship.

Additionally,  hope varies over the course of our lifetime, and as mentioned above, can be cultivated irrespectively of whether we are more optimistically or pessimistically inclined by our temperament. Jane Goodall says: “From all I’ve read there is evidence that an optimistic personality may be partly the result of genetic inheritance, but this can surely be overruled by environmental factors— just as those born without a genetic tendency toward optimism can develop a more optimistic and self-reliant outlook. It certainly points to the importance of a child’s environment and early education. A supportive family background can have a major effect— I know I was really lucky with mine, especially my mother.”

In the book Abram Douglas and Jane Goodall also discuss our capacity for good and evil, in other words, our inherent capacities to display kindness and cruelty, generosity and selfishness, tenderness and aggression, which we have had to evolve to survive in different environments and under different circumstances. What we nurture and encourage wins. Jane Goodall says that as humans we have the capacity for both and that “Humans are incredibly adaptive and will do whatever is required to survive in their environment. The environment we create will determine what prevails. In other words, what we nurture and encourage wins…. If we live in a society with a reasonable standard of living and some degree of social justice, the generous and peaceful aspects of our nature are likely to prevail; while in a society of racial discrimination and economic injustice, violence will thrive….. Over the couple of million years that we have been humans, I do think we have increasingly become more caring and compassionate. And although there is much cruelty and injustice everywhere, there is general agreement that these behaviors are wrong. And more people understand what is going on thanks to the media. And when all’s said and done, I do honestly believe that a far greater percentage of people are basically decent and kind.”

Another important question explored in their book is how we could use our amazing human intellect wisely at this point in history?

Goodall’s response is: “We need to come together and solve these existential threats to life on Earth. And to do so, we must solve four great challenges….. First, we must alleviate poverty. If you are living in crippling poverty, you will cut down the last tree to grow food. Or fish the last fish because you’re desperate to feed your family. In an urban area you will buy the cheapest food— you do not have the luxury of choosing a more ethically produced product…. Second, we must reduce the unsustainable lifestyles of the affluent. Let’s face it, so many people have way more stuff than they need or even want….Third, we must eliminate corruption, for without good governance and honest leadership, we cannot work together to solve our enormous social and environmental challenges….. And finally, we must face up to the problems caused by growing populations of humans and their livestock. There are over seven billion of us today, and already, in many places, we have used up nature’s finite natural resources faster than nature can replenish them. And by 2050 there will apparently be closer to ten billion of us. If we carry on with business as usual, that spells the end of life on Earth as we know it… if we use our human intellect— together with good old common sense— to solve them. And, as I said earlier, we are beginning to make progress. Of course, a great deal of our onslaught on Mother Nature is not really lack of intelligence but a lack of compassion for future generations and the health of the planet: sheer selfish greed for short-term benefits to increase the wealth and power of individuals, corporations, and governments. The rest is due to thoughtlessness, lack of education, and poverty. In other words, there seems to be a disconnect between our clever brain and our compassionate heart. True wisdom requires both thinking with our head and understanding with our heart.

I will end this longish post on hope with an extract from an interesting book with fascinating facts that I am currently reading: The Social Instinct by Nichola Raihani, a British psychologist and Professor of Evolution and Behaviour at University College London. She uses an evolutionary approach to investigate social behaviour like the evolution of cooperation in humans and other species.

“One can’t help but wonder what the future holds for us and the other occupants of this planet; what life might look like for our own children, and those who will follow. I think we are right to be worried, to declare emergencies and to demand action. But we shouldn’t lose hope. Unlike any other species on Earth, we have an ability to find our way out of social dilemmas. We are not simply stuck with the games that nature gives us: we can change the rules. There are countless examples of our ingenuity in this realm. Whether it is hunter-gatherers deciding how to share meat, children deciding to take turns with a toy, or citizens of nation states deciding upon a voting system to elect political representatives into power, creating and changing rules is the means by which we have succeeded at aligning the interests of individuals, allowing them to cooperate to produce greater public goods. To have a hope of tackling the global problems we face, we need to use these abilities to create effective institutions – rules, agreements and incentives – that favour cooperation and a long-term view over self-interest and short-termism. We can foresee better solutions, we can envision brighter worlds, and we can design the rules of our societies so that people are incentivised to cooperate. The global human population today stands at nearly 8 billion people, an extraordinary achievement for a species that is no more than an ‘acknowledged descendant of an ape’ For this, we can thank our social instinct – the drive to help our close family, friends and loved ones. Cooperation is undoubtedly the pivotal ingredient in our success. But our enormous presence and impact on the planet now requires us to go beyond instinct and to cooperate in different, less natural ways. It is easy – most of the time – to cooperate with our relatives or within established relationships, but it is far harder to put our faith in people we don’t know – and might never meet. Inconveniently, tackling the global problems we now face requires us to do exactly this. We undoubtedly have the ability, the technology and the know-how to rise to these challenges. But, tales of societal collapse over history warn us against complacency: failure is a realistic prospect. We should remember that there is no divine plan for our species and no preordained outcome. We still have a chance to get this right, but we won’t get another shot at it. There is an almost fairy-tale quality to the role of cooperation in the human story. If used well it will deliver riches, but in the wrong hands or used in the wrong ways, it will bring ruin. Cooperation has carried us this far in our journey, but if we don’t find ways to be better at it – to scale it to the global problems we face – we risk becoming the victims of our own success. Whether this fairy tale has a happy ending is up to us.”

More on hope and Jane Goodall in the October 25th post