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HAPPY SCRUM MASTER BOOKLIST: Humankind: A Hopeful History – Rutger Bregman

Updated: Feb 26, 2021

Reading is very important to me so I’m always on the look-out for a good book. Last year, I challenged you to try Xtrem Reading because it’s the perfect way to help you identify those books out of the many books available that are actually worth your time. And, oh man, there are sooooo many good books out there. So this year, I’m challenging myself: I’m going to read one book per week. Yes, that’s right, one book each and every week for an entire year. I wouldn’t be the Happy Scrum Master if I wouldn’t share not only my favourite games but also my favourite books with you.

This month’s book is: Humankind: A Hopeful History – Rutger Bregman

This book has been receiving raving reviews in the Dutch media ever since the Dutch version was first published in 2019. The English version is due to be published some time this year. The author is definitely one of my biggest heroes. He’s the one who gave that infamous speech at Davos a few years back. Remember? Where he basically told all those billionaires that they should stop cheating on their taxes? And then did it again, when he told Fox’s Tucker Carlson exactly the same thing during an interview. A bit that Tucker Carlson subsequently refused to show on his programme so Rutger posted it on YouTube himself. He is that guy! He also gave this awesome TedTalk on why we should have a ‘basic income’. So, it’s fair to say that this guy has some revolutionary ideas. I read his book ‘Utopia for Realists’ a couple of years ago and absolutely loved it.

In this new book he takes a closer look at human nature. The literal translation of the Dutch title is: most people are decent – a new history of humankind. And a new history it is! But a hopeful one too! So I totally understand why they chose to use that for the English translation instead. For a long time, our worldview and our world have been shaped around the idea that humans are basically only interested in themselves and their own survival, don’t care about others and simply can’t be trusted.

And for years, I’ve been struggling with that notion because it clashed with everything I personally believe in. I’ve been told that I’m too positive and naïve so many times, like you wouldn’t believe. And yes, I’ll happily give my keys to someone to fix something or other in my house even though I’ve never met that person before. Naïve? Not in my experience. In my experience, most people really deserve to be trusted. Of course, there have been people who abused my trust. I’m not afraid to admit that but the very few times I’ve actually been cheated are nothing compared to all the times my trust wasn’t only justified but in return people went the extra mile to show their appreciation.

Turns out, I was right all along. HA! Because that’s exactly what Rutger’s book is all about. People want to be trusted, can be trusted and should be trusted to do the right thing. It comes natural to them. In his book he takes his readers along on this personal journey into the history of humankind and he discovered that a lot of the outcomes of the scientific research on which the ‘all people are bad’-theories have been based over the years have been wrong, misleading, misinterpreted or even falsified. Really? Yes, really!

I started reading this book about the same time as the lockdown in the Netherlands was put into place and it really helped me put things in perspective. It’s a real page-turner that’s hard to put down once you’ve started reading. Which is a good thing because it’s also about 500 pages long. It really validated my basic attitude towards people, which was very comforting. And comfort was just what I needed to get used to this weird lockdown, social distancing situation.

Rutger combines science, history, biology and archaeology to explain why we have been misinterpreting human nature all this time. He takes a close look at all the ugly things humans did over the ages and analyses them to see where things went wrong. He also came up with an explanation on why we keep ending up with these greedy, power hungry leaders. If humanity is decent, that shouldn’t be possible, right? I’ll be honest, that bit was quite depressing to read. But now we understand why things happened the way they did and our leaders are the way they are, in theory, we should be able to do something about it. And there’s hope in that. Especially if I look at the many incredible good deeds that are being performed on a daily basis during this corona crisis. Most people are really putting their best foot forward, are looking after each other and are trying to do the right thing. That’s also very comforting.

According to Rutger, we as a species didn’t evolve as a result of the ‘power of the fittest’ but the ‘power of the friendliest’. Our intelligence is actually a by-product of our friendliness. Who’d have thought? And here’s the kicker, we made a lot of our discoveries through play. Play, it turns out, is our natural way of learning. HA!!! That’s what I keep telling everyone. More Serious Play, people! It’s not only fun, it’s what we were born to do!

This book really validated all the things that I've been working on over the last few months. I really believe that people are more creative and productive when they are given more autonomy and trust by their employers. I really believe that by learning through play, the message will stick more easily and for longer. I really believe that a top-down managerial style is not only less productive it’s counterproductive. And yes, I really, really, really believe that most people can be trusted.

Still not convinced this book is for you? As a teaser, I’ll leave you with this adapted excerpt from the Guardian.

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