Our Infinite Capacity For Taking Things For Granted

“Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted. That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important lesson of all the lessons from history.” -Aldous Huxley, “Variations on a Philosopher” in Themes and Variations (1950).

We take stuff for granted. 

“Oh, that looks hard.” Then we go and learn to do it. And while at first it’s a bit tricky, after we get the hang of it, we never think it’s really all that hard again. 

It’s like life before you knew how to drive and then life after you learned. 

First you were afraid (“…you were petrified”). But then you learned. And now you take it for granted, all while focusing on the next fear in front of you.  

I remember watching a friend drink a cup of hot coffee, smoke a cigarette, and manage a stick shift. Impossible for my brain to grasp, completely brainless for his to execute and carry on a conversation over. 

We all have an infinite capacity for taking things for granted. 

So it pays to use to it to our advantage. 

Scary new things can become boring old things. Not always, but often enough we can use this foresight to take some of the sting out of trying. 

If we can take yet another thing for granted, we can bravely take a new task on and see if we can turn bravery into boredom.*

It’s important to remember this with people we serve too. The thing we wow them with today will become, “oh, that again?” tomorrow. We have to keep certain things lively, and other things repeatably reliable.**

We don’t just forget history, we forget how history is made. With one piece of uncertainty becoming the thing that certainly happened and can now be taken for granted in a blink. 

In our lives, the Huxley quote can embolden us to take the risk. In helping those we serve, the quote reminds us to keep things interesting. 

Some things never change, and that’s not such a bad lesson when we’re looking to do something valuable. 

*OK, bravery to boredom isn’t too inspirational, but it is a reminder what’s new today will be old tomorrow so just start already. 

**I prefer my dental appointments to be as boring as possible, for example.