“He had realized that the labels he had been taking so seriously are human inventions--it's all a game. The Number 68 is invented and the A is invented, so we might as well choose to invent something that brightens our life and the lives of the people around us.”
Zander, R. S., & Zander, B. (2007). The art of possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life. Harvard Business School Press.
THE MEAT (The Main Idea)
The significance we assign to labels, grades, dates, and life's moments is a fascinating construct born of human invention.
Let's pause for a moment and ponder: What exactly is the number 68? It's that number that follows 67 and precedes 69, or as a teacher might explain, "It's 6 tens and 8 ones." But wait, who determined that 6 represents six individual ones? It traces back to the Mesopotamians and later the Ancient Egyptians, who developed numerical systems to quantify the world around them. Yes, numbers—essentially, they're inventions.
Let's consider the letter "A." The coveted symbol of academic excellence—quite the head-scratcher, right? Who thought, "Let's use letters to gauge a student's understanding"? Imagine a world where instead of boasting about an "A", we're comparing floral grades: "I received a Daisy, but John scored a Buttercup." It's an amusing thought, yet it underscores a fundamental truth—our perceptions of significance and meaning are products of human invention.
The realization that everything we perceive as significant or meaningful is a construct of human imagination prompts us to reconsider the essence of these constructs in our lives.
THE CHEESE (Added Depth)
As I sit down to draft this blog post, I find myself exploring Benjamin Zander's quote while I've been also reading Heath and Heath's book, The Power of Moments. It's an intersection of these profound writers on a significant day—my Father's second heavenly birthday. What do they all have in common? Why do I connect these disparate pieces? Well, let me introduce a second quote to this week's post that dovetails seamlessly with the idea that everything, even the moments we celebrate, are invented.
Heath and Heath wrote,
“Every culture has its prescribed set of big moments: birthdays, weddings, graduations, holiday celebrations, funeral rites, and political traditions. They seem natural to us, but notice that every last one of them was invented—dreamed up by anonymous authors who wanted to give shape to time. This is what we mean by thinking in moments: to recognize where the prose of life needs punctuation.”
Reflecting on my own life, I realize that the emotions tied to December 11th, my Father's birthday, wouldn't hold the same weight if birthdays weren't invented. Just think about this for a second, birthdays celebrate something every human being does each day- age. Every day we age, yet at some point in history, someone decided, "Let's commemorate annually the day you entered this world." (Interestingly, a quick Google search attributes this tradition to the Egyptians once again!)
This reflection illuminates the remarkable truth that even the most profound emotions and significant moments in our lives are shaped by inventions.
Everything truly is made up.
THE OLIVES (A Surprising Element)
"Only white men who own property can vote." Did that statement make you pause, "Wait, what?" Hopefully, this thinking is considered outdated and, frankly, remarkably stupid. However, there was a time when even women accepted and abided by these beliefs. It prompts a crucial question: Why did society once deem such notions acceptable? Similar questions arise when reflecting on segregation and the institutionalization of people with disabilities.
Consider the Women's Suffrage Movement—a courageous endeavor that challenged the deeply ingrained belief in confining women solely to domestic roles. The Civil Rights Movement similarly confronted discriminatory laws, reshaping societal perceptions of equality and justice. Additionally, the Disability Rights Movement questioned the prevalent belief that people with disabilities were inherently limited.
Sexism, racism, and derogatory views towards people with disabilities—these attitudes were all inventions of individuals constrained by limiting beliefs. These movements challenged these invented societal constructs, unraveling the fabric of deeply rooted prejudices, and advocated for a more inclusive and just society.
See, what Zander truly writes about is that we should invent things to brighten our lives and those around us, not harm. When people's ideals and inventions harm and hurt, then we need to fight with new inventions of thought. This profound realization underscores the essence of these movements. They dared to challenge societal labels and constructs, demonstrating that much of what we once considered fundamental truths were merely invented limitations. By embracing this understanding, we empower ourselves to forge a brighter, more inclusive path—one that illuminates lives and fosters equality and understanding for all.
Happy birthday Daddy.