Read this – humans are bad at everything that’s important.

David Cain at Raptitude is one of the most insightful contemporary writers into the human condition. I’ve enjoyed reading his blog for quite some time. He really nails it in this piece.

Two choice quotes:

I’m not suggesting we downplay or deny the harm that our moral failings cause, but to become more accepting of human failing in general, particularly our own. We are too quick to condemn people for not living up to what are actually extremely lofty standards, at least for a creature whose motivations are still largely reptilian.

And

You could call this kind of acquired humanness wisdom, and the pursuit of wisdom is called philosophy. There’s a running joke in Western culture about the uselessness of a philosophy degree, which is a nearly perfect indication of how unwise our culture really is. We consider education to be useful only insofar as it expands our income, which seems to be our our primary measure of personal development.

But philosophy isn’t useless or boring. It’s how we learn how to be better people, or more specifically, how to become the kind of people we wish others would be. For thousands of years, people have been teaching each other how to be a better partner, overcome envy and greed, be compassionate regardless of our own troubles, imagine better societies, raise better children, and otherwise become less self-interested and easier to be around.

It’s a great piece. Hopefully you find it as thought-provoking as I did. Empathy is something I really struggle with. But I think it’s really amazing to realize that all of the qualities which we praise as “human” or “virtuous” aren’t innate. They’re skills that we have to practice every day. To borrow Stephen Covey’s phrase, we need to be always ‘sharpening the saw’. It’s insights like this that remind me why I have certain books I re-read regularly, because it’s so easy to forget the insight they gave you the first (or previous) time you read them, but also because as we grow, they nourish us in yet new ways.

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