Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari is a remarkable book.

As I worked my through it a couple of years ago, I was struck by his chapter on myths.

Yuval explains that one of our most powerful capabilities as humans is to imagine myths that enable us to cooperate with each other.

Our hunter gatherer ancestors only needed to cooperate in small groups. However, once plants domesticated us [you read that right], we needed to cooperate with much larger groups. So, we invented myths like tribes, races, rules of law, and, in time, nations.

Over time, we added more complexity including a national identity, national anthems and flags, tiers of law, human rights, and so on.

Our imagination is a powerful thing.

Our ability to focus on what we control [control can be an elusive myth] is one such example.

Yuval notes that various characteristics of these myths and their pervasiveness in our lives.

Folk tales and stories ensure they are part of our belief system when we grow up. Then, they help shape our aspirations. And, finally, they are inter subjective, i.e., they work because millions of us believe in them.

The Private Company [Limited Liability Corporation], for example, is a myth we have created to enable better cooperation.

A Company [Pty] Ltd exists in the rule of law, also a myth. And, a law exists in a nation, and so on.

I had to stop reading the book for a few days after this chapter to reflect.

I think these myths as described by Yuval were created for the greater good of humanity, so that there is law and order, so that we can live in harmony with each.

But I shuddered as I thought about the unintended consequences of these myths, about racism, about how much mass genocide has occurred over these invented myths.

But, focusing on something closer to home, I was left looking at a lot of things happening around me very differently.

We all create a lot of drama in our lives around events like raises, promotions, awards and achievements. But, a lot of them are just a result of these inter subjective myths we have chosen to believe in.

I don’t mean to call them futile.

But, I do intend to question the importance we give them. 

Their purpose is for us to cooperate and love each other. And, if they only lead to us seeing imagined divisions, then we have lost the plot.

I’m still thinking about this idea and its implication in my life.

But, for now, it is given me a very different perspective. And, for that, I’m grateful.

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