By Rutger Bregman
Rating: 5/5

By Rutger Bregman
Rating: 5/5

This is my favorite book (at least on 2 February 2024). Yeah, there is no other way to put. I absolutely loved the book, and it has changed my worldview for the better.

For better understanding, direct lines from the book are in “double-quotes.” The other lines are my comments.

“So what is this radical idea? – That most people, deep down, are pretty decent.” The qualifier most is important. However, more or less, I agree with this radical idea. That does not mean that I don’t get manipulated now and then, but I still think that people are generally good. Humankind is a beautiful thing.

“There is a persistent myth that by their very nature humans are selfish, aggressive and quick to panic. It’s what Dutch biologist Frans de Waal likes to call veneer theory: the notion that civilisation is nothing more than a thin veneer that will crack at the merest provocation.”

“Catastrophes bring out the best in people. I know of no other sociological finding that’s backed by so much solid evidence that’s so blithely ignored. The picture we’re fed by the media is consistently the opposite of what happens when disaster strikes.”

It is hard to stay hopeful, be optimistic with so much going on around us. On some days it might seem like everything is coming down crashing. At the same time, so many things are getting so much better. When I feel low, I try to think of life a few years ago. Looking back at life 5-10 years ago, and life right now I feel a deep sense of calm – that things are okay, and life is going in the way I imagined.

If there’s one lesson to be drawn from the nocebo effect, it’s that ideas are never merely ideas. We are what we believe. We find what we go looking for. And what we predict, comes to pass. Preach!

“Maybe it’s not so strange, then, that blushing is the only human expression that’s uniquely human. Blushing, after all, is quintessentially social–it’s people showing they care what others think, which fosters trust and enables cooperation.”

I blush every time someone says something nice about my eyebrows or my “flawless” skin. I might be a social person after all, as opposed to what I’ve been thinking all this while.

“People are social animals, but we have a fatal flaw: we feel more affinity for those who are most like us.”

I don’t see any lie in this. I’ve found, however, that talking to more and more people can reduce the “flaw” a bit. Be it through travel, or just saying hello to people you come across at work or on the playground. Learning about others is truly fascinating. This sense of “us” vs “them” tends to reduce as you get to know more people.

After reading the following section, I had a moment – I had to take a pause and really think about what the author said. Because it truly made a lot of sense! Read for yourself.

“It’s ironic at best. The very things we hold up today as ‘milestones of civilization’, such as the invention of money, the development of writing, or the birth of legal institutions, started out as instruments of oppression.”

  • “Take the first coins: we didn’t begin minting money because we thought it would make life easier, but because rulers wanted an efficient way to levy taxes.”
  • “Or think about the earliest written texts: these weren’t books of romantic poetry, but long lists of outstanding debts.”
  • “The legendary Code of Hammurabi, the first code of law, was filled with punishments for helping slaves to escape.”

“Civilisation has become synonymous with peace and progress, and wilderness with war and decline. In reality, for most of human existence, it was the other way around.”

This is what gives me hope, amidst all the suffering one sees around. So many things are getting better for so many people. If we stick together, cooperate, and see this through we can make so many lives better.

The real story of Easter Island is the story of a resourceful and resilient people, of persistence in the face of long odds. It’s not a tale of impending doom, but a wellspring of hope.

“… resistance is always worthwhile, even when all seems lost.” Never forget.

“People are emotional vacuum cleaners, always sucking up other people’s feelings.” I wonder if this is a good or a bad thing. I mean, it is what makes us humans but it also makes us feel hollow at times, fulfilled at other times. Sometimes I wish things were different, but then I remember that I’m only human.

“The sad truth is that empathy and xenophobia go hand in hand. They’re two sides of the same coin.” People cannot make this distinction often. This concept of “us” vs “them” keeps coming up throughout the book. It was eye-opening for me the first time I read it.

According to Machiavelli, ‘it can be said about men in general that they are ungrateful, fickle, dissembling, hypocritical, cowardly, and greedy’.

“Myths were key to helping the human race and our leaders do something no other species had done before.” Myths led us to collectively achieve what no other species was able to achieve before. This was one of the main themes in Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens. That’s another great book.

“Money may be a fiction, but it’s enforced by the threat of very real violence.” What I also liked about the book is that the author gives concrete examples, such as this one, right after making a point. It makes so much sense. Because money inherently just exists in our collective imagination. It only has the value it has because all of us believe in it, and that if we don’t pay up what we owe bad things are going to happen to us.

Modern capitalism, democracy and the rule of law are all founded on the principle that people are selfish.

“…nothing is more powerful than people who do something because they want to do it.” The book keeps delivering.

“…diversity can also make us friendlier. In 2018, an international team of researchers at the University of Singapore established on the basis of five new studies that people who live in more diverse communities more often identify with all of humanity. As a result, they also exhibit more kind, helpful behaviour towards strangers.”

“All too easily we forget that the other guy, a hundred yards away, is just like us.” As I said before, the concept is “us” vs “them” is one of the central themes of the book. I think about this statement often. Some people enjoy looking down on or mocking other people for their plight or passing an off-handed comment. This single line did a lot of character development for me.

“… accept and account for the fact that you’ll occasionally be cheated. That’s a small price to pay for the luxury of a lifetime of trusting other people.” Such is the nature of humankind. Yes, it has its flaws and some people do take you for a toss now and then, but it is also incredibly kind, something to be hopeful about.

“Having faith in others is as much a rational decision as an emotional one.”

The final takeaway from the book, if nothing else should be this –

Live, love, and be hopeful. Because Humankind is something to be hopeful about. Please read the book if you have not. I hope it changes your outlook on life, every single bit as it changed mine.

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