No. It’s not just you. Sorry. We’re talking about humanity in general.
There’s around seven and a half billion of us wandering around (and, fact geeks, since the evolution of ‘modern’ homo sapiens around 50,000 BC, something like 108 billion people have roamed this planet) and while there’s been a few wrong ‘uns over the course of history, generally speaking, when you put your mind to it, we really have done some pretty mind-blowing things.
It’s fair to say that 2018 has been a crazy year. Brexit, May, Trump and all that gubbins has dominated the column inches and we can all be forgiven for thinking that the whole world has gone to hell in a handcart but always at this time of year, we turn our minds to what has been and perhaps more importantly, what’s to come.
Amidst the media’s perennially negative spin on virtually everything, did you even notice that after seven months of travelling over 301 million miles through the depths of space, the NASA InSight mission landed on Mars. Unmanned (obviously), the craft will explore the deep interior of the red planet as NASA and the world’s space agencies prepare to send astronauts back to the moon and beyond to Mars.
What Did You Achieve This Year?
The thing about achievements is that they’re relative. You may have got yourself a new job, a promotion or a pay rise. You may have bought a house (although not if you’re under 35 and want to live in London unless you’ve got rich parents), you may have had a baby, got engaged or married.
Did you finally join a gym like you’ve been promising yourself you’d do for five years? Did you give up time for a charity? What about ticking a few adventures off your bucket list?
One, some or all, there is a commonality to achievement that should never be overlooked and it’s irrelevant if your achievement was doing your first 5K or finally giving the world hoverboards, just like the producers of Back to the Future promised us. What do you think it is? We know what we think it is and if you read all the way to the end, we can compare answers…
The Greatest Human Achievements
Ask a thousand people what they think the top 10 greatest human achievements are and you’ll get a thousand different answers. In an age where many of us are seriously beginning to question how long humanity can last at these levels of unprecedented stupidity, it’s worth taking a step back and reflecting on some of the most unbelievably incredible life-changing, paradigm-shifting achievements we have been capable of.
There are people we could well do without and there are people we could never do without.
I see your Nigel Farage and raise you Alan Turing.
I see your Piers Morgan and raise you Marie Curie.
I see your Katie Hopkins and raise you Crick and Watson.
Putting a man on the moon in 1969 is often seen as the pinnacle of human achievement with over four hundred thousand people coming together to put two men on the surface of another world. In a quite brilliant stroke of genius, Apollo programme manager George Müller, the guy with absolute control over the entire thing arranged for Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins to visit the factories making the millions of parts as a somewhat sombre reminder that a single technical glitch could kill a man they had all personally met.
Now that’s project management!
But what about the other remarkable achievements by remarkable people that have made our world a better place?
Here are our choices (in no particular order). Do you agree or disagree? What would you add or take away?
The Printing Press In the mid-15th century, German blacksmith Johannes Gutenberg invented the moveable type printing press. It played a key role in the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Age of Enlightenment and laid the material base for spreading learning to the masses where previously, books were the domain of scholars, the clergy and the wealthy.
The Development of the Vaccine Edward Jenner, the man who invented the smallpox vaccine in the late 18th century is widely regarded as the man whose work has saved more lives than any other human being in history and inventor of the polio vaccine in the 1950s Jonas Salk saved America from a collective fear, second only to the atomic bomb.
Powered Flight Although they weren’t the first to build an experimental flying machine, Orville and Wilbur Wright made the first controlled flight of a powered, heavier-than-air aircraft at Kitty Hawk in North Carolina in 1903. Even though the flight was shorter than the wingspan of a new 747, they paved the way for an entire industry that has taken us to the moon and back…
The Human Genome Project The world’s largest ever collaborative biological project, the goal of the HGP was to identify and map the three billion genes that make up the human genome. Complete in 2003, the information has provided scientists and researchers with access to unparalleled data on the human body and has led to some remarkable breakthroughs in medical research.
The World Wide Web Although a way of exchanging data (known as the internet) has been around in one form or another since the 1950s, Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web and with it, a phenomenally-powerful tool used by most of the world to share and distribute information (and cat memes).
These are certainly up there but the list is almost endless.
In science, names like Einstein, Turing, Lovelace, Babbage, Hawking, Newton, Galileo, Edison, Curie, Pasteur, Darwin, Tesla, von Braun and Copernicus have all revolutionised how we think and what we know about science.
Engineers like Brunel, Eiffel, Stephenson, Ford, Watt, Daimler, Bell and Baird have given us the physical world and the world’s great creative geniuses and polymaths like Da Vinci, Mozart, Van Gogh, Jobs, Gandhi, Shakespeare, Dickens, Aristotle and Michelangelo have given us an appreciation of beauty, music, art and science.
We said that the list is almost endless. What we actually meant that the list is endless. Every one of us can cite an achievement we’re proud of.
For every discovery of penicillin there’s a guy who takes his elderly neighbour’s dog out for a walk every day when he comes home from work because she can’t go out anymore.
For every discovery that the sun is the centre of our universe and not the Earth, there’s the girl who spends one night a week in a homeless shelter helping to give out meals when it’s cold out.
For every cracked German Enigma code, there’s the guy who lost seven stone through hard work and determination.
What all of these people (and millions of others) have in common is that they all have the will to succeed, often against seemingly insurmountable odds. We have phenomenal capacity to cope, regardless of what barriers are put in our way.
You do too, and as we leave 2018 behind and move closer to the third decade of the 21st century, think about what you’d like to achieve and if you put your mind to it, anything is possible.
Anything at all.
Catch you soon.