We are Changing the World, Right Now.
When I was a kid, I enjoyed reading fairy tales and fables, like Arabian Nights and Grimm’s Fairy Tales. To me, those were fantastic worlds of boundless imagination, though of course I hadn’t an inkling of where these stories came from. To my young mind, I’m sure, these stories were “just there”, perhaps dropped onto the mortal world by angels and fairies to teach us about life.
Then recently, I bought Aesop’s Fables for nostalgia’s sake. And inevitably, I came across the preface that discusses who Aesop might be when he was alive, and that alerted me to a truth I had subconsciously registered after I became an adult, which is this: all stories are histories, and made by us.
Stalin is not Made Up by Schools.
Later in school, I remember vividly, when I studied about Stalin and his “Five Year Plan”, my first thought was, “Five years is long. How do you make plans that last for five years?”
To my young mind, too, Stalin was a bad guy. In fact, that was all there was to Stalin in my mind. Stalin was a bad guy who had a five year plan and killed people. Period. “Historical figure” didn’t mean shit to me, and Stalin was about as real as Rumpelstiltskin, a faint impression that didn’t mean a thing in real life.
And when I read about Milan Kundera‘s anecdote of him in his latest novel, again, it occurred to me how real Stalin was. He was, like all of us, just another human being. Fallible.
We are History.
So once you become an adult, you recognize the fact that fairy tales are the product of authors’ selfish desires and selfless hopes. And you realize that the men and women in your school textbooks who seemed that distant, aren’t that distant after all.
And once you recognize that, once you recognize that we will soon become the history of people after us, just as many had become our history, you inevitably come to this realization:
We’re making history, right now.
I think it’s natural for most of us who are neither Steve Jobs nor Bill Gates nor Tim Berners-Lee, nor any of the few pioneers who have obviously helped shape our time, to believe we’re too insignificant to be contributing to history. Yet history is not made up of a few famous people. History, each period of history, is the culmination of decisions made by its generation. And every decision we make as a generation, every joint decision made by all of us (the majority, at least) will invariably leave its mark. If we as a generation decide to stop paying for music, for example, then decades down the road, people may be able to point to our period and say, “This is the beginning of the era of universally free music.” Or, if mobile phones continue to dictate the lives of our generation, then perhaps, hundreds of years down the road, people will look back and say, “This is the turning point when humans start to develop a new posture suited to consuming the Internet on the go”, and find a fancy scientific name to define us.
In short, I think, none of us is insignificant. Every one of us, our actions determine the future that lies ahead for the people after us.
So what, indeed. This fact isn’t going to inspire anyone to start making a difference to their lives. People will continue to do what they mean to do, irregardless of such impersonal information. I guess, for me, the recognition that I’ll soon become history does encourage me to not shy away from life, to take courage and do things I believe in—while I can.
Life is short, but certainly worth a shot. That might well be my theme for this post.