This I Believe

Jason - San Francisco, California
Entered on May 22, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: gratitude, legacy

I believe we stand on the shoulders of giants each and every day. The people who came before us paved a path that seems so intuitive now, so laced with common sense, it’s easy to forget how much work has gone into it all. I’m not even talking about the big things like cell phones and democracy and antibiotics. I’m talking about the everyday things that seem so simple, but represent generations of trial, error, refinement, and sometimes just dumb luck.

Take coffee. Think of the tenacity of the first guy who plucked a coffee bean off a tree and ate it. Deciding it was no good at all, he probably cooked it. Which, likely wasn’t much better. But did he stop? No. He kept at it until he came to the conclusion that the best way to enjoy a coffee bean was to cook it, then grind it up, then pour boiling water over it, then drink that water with a bit of cream and sugar. It should be awe-inspiring. Instead, it’s a part of people’s everyday, morning ritual. And after their encounter with this cup of hot, liquid amazement, they go out into a world filled with airplanes, and language, and television, and toilet paper, and millions of other things that have lost their ability to be remarkable, simply because the people who were here before us made life easier. A little bit a time.

And it isn’t always strangers. I stand on the shoulders of giants within my own family. I was always told, “You can do anything you set your mind to.” If I’d been born a generation prior, in the same genetic line, I might not have set my mind to something like writing a novel. I probably would have dared to dream of learning to read. Of graduating high school. Of having sons who buried their parents, instead of the other way around. But these weren’t dreams by the time I grew up. They were commonplace. And so I was allowed to reach my hand for another rung, while my parents, and their parents, and all the generations before them held me up. Giving me lifetimes of elevation.

There are a handful of things you can only learn on your own. Every person’s experience with falling in love or deciding when to fight or discovering a new friend is unique. Always will be. But everything else—everything—is possible because of the people who came first. Whether they’re strangers, or family, or sometimes both, they’re giants. And if we had to start again, with the whole of human ignorance weighing heavy on our heads, I can’t help but feel we’d be lucky to do it half as well.