Thought for the Week: How Do You Harmonize with the Past?

I believe we all harmonize with the past, both consciously and unconsciously. We are taught to do that by our families, by what we’re taught in school, by what we need to do to succeed in whatever society we live in.

If we want more harmony in the present, we often need to change how we “harmonize” with the past.

In this week’s video, I’ll be sharing ideas from the book The Dawn of Everything A New History of Humanity by David Graeber and David Wengrow, published in 2020.

Here’s a video of my Mindful Earthkeeper Thought for the Week:

If you prefer, you can read more below:

I’m going to review the book, The Dawn of Everything, A New History of Humanity by David Graeber and David Wengrow, published in 2020, as a way of opening our eyes to how we harmonize we the past through ideas.

Let me start by saying that the Dawn of Everything is an intellectual tour de force, which is often academic. Unfortunately, I suspect most read this over .

The authors of the Dawn of Everything would probably agree that none of us, no matter how learned we are, knows everything there is to know about the past, especially ancient history.

But an anthropologist and archaeologist have things to teach us about how to ask questions about the past.

As human beings, we tend to come to conclusions about what can be learned about the past and create general rules or myths about the past.

This quote from Andrew Carnegie, a famous entrepreneur and philanthropist of the early 20th century encapsulates what many of us have been led to believe:

And while the law of competition may sometimes be hard for the individual, it is best for the race, because it ensures the survival of the fittest in every department.

Andrew Carnegie

He probably was familiar with Darwin, who talked about survival of the fittest this way:

In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals because they succeed in adapting themselves best to their environment.

Charles Darwin

The Dawn of Everything challenges what many of us were taught to “harmonize” our lives with this idea, and many others.

Most of us who care about the sustainability of the planet need to deal with myths and partial truths that keep us from harmonizing with the rest of life on earth in the wisest ways.

A big thread in The Dawn of Everything is questioning the role of freedom and equality in shaping history.

In a way it is difficult to summarize the book. It discusses everything from the sophistication of indigenous tribal leaders and their views on freedom and responsibility to the role of women in innovating agriculture for thousands of years, and the realization by the authors that domination and exploitation seems to occur in cycles, as do hundreds of years of relative peace. The movement towards either dystopia or utopia is not a linear path.

One of the ideas in the book that I think we should consider as we look at how to be more sustainable in the world describes three types of freedom (page 503):

  1. The freedom to move away or relocate from one’s surroundings.
  2. The freedom to ignore or disobey commands from others.
  3. The freedom to shape entirely new social realities, or shift back and forth between different ones.

From a sustainability point of view, we are in a state of discord with nature in many places in the world, because people live in places that can’t support the amount of human population.

With climate change progressing as it is, more people will need the freedom to move. That’s what people had to do or were able to do at other times of climate change.

We live in a time when millions of people may need to move, and we don’t have plans for addressing that very real possibility.

When I helped create the sustainability plan update for the City of Aurora, Illinois a few years ago, I was successful in adding a focus area on resilience. My reasoning for wanting that in the plan was because I believed then and still do, that we need to plan for people moving to the Chicago area in the next 50 years. That sounds like a long way off, but it’s not.

A little less than 20 years ago, I watched a presentation for City of Chicago leaders talking about what was expected to happen in the Chicago area by 2100. We were told then, which was in 2004 or 2005, that by roughly 2100, the Chicago area (where I live) is expected to have the climate of Houston Texas. Many of the predictions those scientists shared have happened more quickly than was predicted then.

We already have climate change refugees. Many people attribute, many of the wars in the Middle East to droughts caused by climate change. When drought conditions occur in countries that have no ability to import more food and water, situations like what is happening in Somalia, Syria and Yemen occur. This is just the beginning.

If we stick to the survival of the fittest mentality, millions if not billions of people will face starvation in the next twenty years. This is one of the reasons that climate change scientists worry about the future being dystopic.

In my view, we need to create new harmonies with the past. For instance, we can discover and align with the collaborative and innovative models of the past, which have existed since ancient times, often at the same time that greed-driven and exploitative social systems occurred.

The Dawn of Everything challenges the ideas about what was truly successful in the past.It begins by comparing the Iroquois and Wendat cultures of North America to the European culture of the same time. The Native Americans saw Europeans as barbaric, greedy and horrifying. Often, we have been taught the opposite history seeing indigenous people as savages.

Whether we like to believe we do it or not, people “harmonize” with what we’ve been taught about the past.

So, how do we change our views of the past?

Even when we intellectually separate from views that we know are harmful to us, our community, or the earth, sometimes an unconscious part of us has a strong pull to be in harmony with the predominant world views that we were taught.

That’s why a book like The Dawn of Everything can be helpful. Because it offers a different view of the past that we can begin to harmonize with and build up.

This week I suggest you consider three actions to help you change the way you harmonize with the past:

  1. Read the book The Dawn of Everything. It’s been out since 2020, so you can probably find it at a library.
  2. Ask yourself is there any way that you are “harmonizing” your life with collective ideas and myths about the past that keep you stuck? This may be hard to do, but look for areas in your life where you allow yourself to be exploited, where you feel powerless, or that you have less value than other people. There’s probably a myth you’re harmonizing with or being forced to harmonize with.
  3. Choose to harmonize with the past in a way that inspires you, helps you to be more innovative, and free.

Next week, I’m going to offer another way of harmonizing your past with the present, involving working with your imperfect passions.

Thanks for being reading or listening to this message, and being an important part of the Mindful Earthkeeper Community!

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Published by Karen Powers Wan

Writer, Restorative Lifestyle Coach, Sustainability Project Manager, and Meditation Instructor.

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