I wrote this book with the aid of a neuroscientist and a monk so that I could clear up a few of these niggling questions.
Turns out, we weren’t created to be happy, simply to survive and replicate. “Wham bam, thank you mam.” That’s it. To me, it’s a miracle we’re here at all. No other planet that we know has pulled this off - they haven’t made a single cell of anything of interest, while we’ve already sold twelve trillion McDonald burgers. But this is beside the point.
Why are we so hard on ourselves? As Homo Sapiens we’ve only been around 200 thousand years in a universe that’s around fourteen billion years old. We share 98% of our DNA with great apes, 90% with mice and 25% with yeast so we’re no big deal, we shouldn’t push ourselves so hard. We’re partly yeast for God’s sake…. some stale bread.
We do, however, have an all new advanced brain as of about seventy-five thousand years ago, capable of insight and compassion, but this upgraded version didn’t replace the old reptile ‘kill it before it kills you’ brain. They live one on top of the other like a cerebral car crash. These opposing mindsets explains why we’re always in conflict, not just with the rest of the world, but within ourselves. We point the finger at global warming or the latest in terrorists for the reason things are terrible but the real enemy lurks within. Until we make peace between the savage and the sage there will always be war.
But this is all because evolution made us so and for a reason: ‘to survive’; so in a sense we are not our fault. Our individual condition, which makes us feel so isolated and helpless is rather the human condition. This doesn’t mean we just sit there like our ancestors did when we were algae on a rock, no, we have that superior brain, so now is the time to use it. If we continue to evolve the way we’re heading, we’ll just make better and better tools but not better humans. So now is the time, we have to take over from evolution and consciously evolve ourselves. We need to consciously upgrade our minds, which we can do because the brain is plastic; not set in stone. Research in neuroplasticity shows that an old dog (you) can learn new tricks. We have this superior brain capable of higher thinking that can tame and rein in the reptilian one but we need to learn how to do that and if we don’t our more basic side will triumph. Like any skill we need to practice (you don’t get a six pack by wishful thinking) you have to get in that gym and repeat those crunches…daily. Same with our brains, we can practice skills to develop features such as compassion and tolerance by exercising our minds and understanding that everyone in the human race we feel is ‘not like us’ is ‘just like us’.
There is hope, we just needed the manual. Here it is.
How To Be Human: The Manual is published today by Penguin, and is available online and from all good bookshops.Ruby is on tour this spring with her #Frazzled Show. Tickets are still available - book quick.
If you want to join Ruby’s community and be the first to know more about her research into mental health, as well as exclusive news, special offers and other things that might be useful to you, just tell Ruby where to get in touch.