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Embrace the Unknown

“Do you think it’s possible that humans will ever evolve beyond war?” I asked, casually sprawled on the dorm lobby sofa.

Mike’s response was a swift, flat-out “No.”

“Not even in a thousand years?” I pressed.

“No way.” He replied with an air of masculine certainty.

“What about ten thousand years? I mean, it’s human nature to evolve, get smarter — and it will be a matter of survival to eliminate war.” I’m sure Mike saw the words “naïve idealist” flash across my forehead, but I thought I’d made a good point. However, he refused to even entertain the possibility. And after two dates, I knew we’d never become an item.

In hindsight, I should have cut him some slack, especially since this conversation happened during an intense period of the Cold War. The Day After, a TV movie about the horrible aftermath of a global nuclear war, had broken all ratings records. And another hit movie, War Games, had delivered its unforgettable line about how to extract ourselves from a nuclear deadlock: “The only way to win is not to play.”

It’s easy to see why someone in the mid-1980s wouldn’t consider world peace possible, given that fear of nuclear annihilation was in the air and on the airwaves. But any period during one of the most violent centuries in history could easily lead one to that conclusion. With continual military conflict, media rife with tragic war heroes, and bowing to classic literature like Lord of the Flies, why wouldn’t Mike assume the inevitability of a bleak future? After all, we form our beliefs largely from what we’re taught and the cues we receive.

But what about all the possibilities and alternative outcomes we don’t see and we don’t know? Like the true Lord of the Flies story that happened 50 years ago: instead of the warped divisiveness that led to cruelty and murder in the fiction novel, the opposite happened with the real-life teenage boys! Fifteen months stranded on an island south of Tonga and their nature was to cooperate, be truthful, and stay focused on the goal of getting rescued. If the actual Lord of the Flies story were in our generational zeitgeist, maybe we’d all be more inclined to believe in the possibility of a harmonious world.

I suspect that a big part of why the boys on the island of “kind humanity” *did* survive was because they were off the grid. They weren’t picking up on the stress signals emanating from 20th-century airwaves: no fear-inducing news stories, or adults giving off a vibe of “life worries.” They had their own stress to be sure. But on a deserted island they had no choice other than to connect with nature and at some level tune into all the “unknown unknowns” swirling around them. And among those unknowns, they held onto the idea that they would be rescued.