People Are Pretty Decent

As Merlin Mann likes to say, Tuesday is the optimistic day. So here’s a dose of optimism for Tuesday 12th May, 2020.

The latest episode of Reasons to be Cheerful features an interview with historian Rutger Bregman about his upcoming book: Humankind.

In the clip below, Bregman argues that our default view of humanity is a pessimistic one. A view that he believes has been cultivated over the centuries to benefit those in power. He goes on to say that making more positive assumptions about humanity can therefore be considered both revolutionary and dangerous.

This is a thought provoking perspective that is definitely worth consideration. Our democracy is founded on deeply entrenched structures that have allowed the rich and powerful to maintain social inequality. Religious institutions, the monarchy, and the government have and do rely on our need to be governed. No revolution has ever resulted in the people choosing to go without some form of rule. One form of governance is simply replaced by another.

What if we tore up the rule book and decided to structure society in a completely different way? We don’t have to overthrow the government to do it. At least, not straight away! 😉

Since the onset of the global pandemic, we have witnessed the human capacity to do good in multitudes. In the UK, for example, private companies have used their capital, expertise and resources to help in the fight against Covid-19 by building ventilators. Schools and other business have donated personal protective equipment to help protect nurses and doctors working on the frontline. Local communities have come together in earnest to support each other, delivering food and medicines to those who are most vulnerable.

With the ‘milk of human kindness’ so readily on display, surely we can create a kinder, more humane society? A society that is less “chartered”. A society that is equitable and open, where the rules to which we adhere are based on the needs of the many not just the few.

Idealistic? Maybe. But Bregman’s views about humankind are not unfounded. To explore them further, begin with this adapted excerpt from his book about a real life Lord of the Flies. Spoiler Alert: The boys do not turn savage and murderous. Instead, their tale is one of “friendship and loyalty”. You can follow that with this essay on the decency of humanity, published in The Correspondent. We’re hardwired to help each other.

And, remember:

The Ancient Mariner Big Read

Mariner-Donwood

Curated by The Arts Institute of The University of Plymouth:

“The Ancient Mariner Big Read is an inclusive, immersive work of audio and visual art from the 21st century that reflects the sweeping majesty and abiding influence of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 18th century epic poem.”

Divided into forty episodes, the multimedia project combines each reading with a piece of visual art like the one above[1], created by Stanley Donwood, for the eleventh instalment.

The list of readers is varied and each one brings a unique voice to their given section of the ballad. The moment when the mariner shoots the albatross is delivered with added menace by Willem Defoe; while Olivia Laing’s reading is steeped in sorrow as she describes the “curse in a dead man’s eye!”

Mariner-Morris

At less than two minutes per instalment, the poem is made readily digestible. And the combination of ambient sound and distinct delivery bring each section of the poem into sharper relief.

Returning to Laing’s section of the poem, for example, I was struck anew by the following two stanzas:

“The moving Moon went up the sky,
And no where did abide:
Softly she was going up,
And a star or two beside—

Her beams bemocked the sultry main,
Like April hoar-frost spread;
But where the ship’s huge shadow lay,
The charmèd water burnt alway
A still and awful red.”

The juxtaposition of the moonlight with the bloody sea distinctly captures the beauty of Coleridge’s writing while conveying imagery that is inherently melancholy and horrifying. This instalment also provided my favourite image[2] thus far (above), created by Desmond Morris. Like Coleridge, he perfectly captures the contrast between the beautiful and the grotesque.

As of this morning, the project reached the half-way point but it’s never too late to jump in. Each episode can be enjoyed in various places, including YouTube and Spotify. However, the richest experience comes from the project website itself where each reading is complemented with the art work, contextual information, critical commentary,  and the relevant stanzas of the poem.

So pull up a chair and listen to the “bright-eyed” mariner’s tale.


  1. Stanley Donwood, Residential Nemesis, Acrylic on canvas.  ↩
  2. Desmond Morris, The Voyager, Oil on canvas.  ↩

Meaningful work? Learn to say no.

#slack variety pack

I’m really enjoying The Slack Variety Pack podcast. In a recent episode they spoke with Tom Rath who offered some excellent advice about the importance of health and the value of saying no to ensure that you are doing meaningful work. Listen from 21:37 to 27:42.