It’s easy to look at the behaviour of creatures and feel that this is how the world is – that they are in a fixed state, not a process. It’s easy to think the same things about ourselves. Once upon a time, beavers were mammals who got their sustenance from trees, and that was it. They gnawed on trees to eat them. At some point that changed.
I like to imagine a grumpy beaver waking up in the morning, looking at the leftovers from yesterday’s tree, having a moment and chucking it in a stream, and it all going from there. Behaviours evolve. Somehow beavers went from eating trees to building with trees, to blocking the flow of water to make ponds and building themselves homes. It was a process, full of beaver ingenuity, beavers learning from other beavers, and no doubt some percentage of happy accident.
Humans are similar. At some point in our history we had ideas about tool use. We started making shelters. We have changed in so many ways over time. It may be tempting to look at ourselves and imagine we are now the best that people could be. Of course we aren’t. It’s easy to mistake change for progress – and it isn’t necessarily so. Circumstances change, and behaviours have to adapt in line with those changes. One state of being is not necessarily intrinsically better than another, just better for the circumstances. The ‘survival of the fittest’ notion is one people often misunderstand because it’s not about being the ultimate best, it’s about being well adapted for the current situation. Highly adapted specialists can be exceedingly vulnerable if their circumstances change.
As individuals, we have the scope to change our behaviour all the time. We can innovate. We can be the beaver who wakes up one morning and thinks, hang on a minute, why don’t I chuck this log in this stream?