Matt Harding’s caveman brain

You’re probably one of the 20 million people who have seen Matt Harding’s video online.  You know, the one with the guy doing a goofy dance all over the world…

Sure, it’s silly.  But it’s also hopeful and inspirational, transcendence masquerading as simplicity.

Matt was recently featured on NPR’s This I Believe.  Here’s how he described the project:

I made a video of myself dancing terribly in exotic locations. I put it on my web site. Some friends started passing it around, and soon millions of people had watched it. I was offered sponsorship to continue my accidental vocation, and since then I’ve made two more videos that include 70 countries on all seven continents. A lot of people wanted to dance along with me, so I started inviting them to join in everywhere I went, from Toronto to Tokyo to Timbuktu.

Something about what Matt did captured people’s imaginations, made them laugh and smile and think.

The images are inane but beautiful:  Matt dancing on an sunset-tinged desert dune in Lancelin, Australia; on a desolate beach covered with busy red crabs on Christmas Island; in a sea of red tulips in Lisse in the Netherlands.  Through all the quick cuts, you have one constant: a young man who knows he’s doing something that is a little bit absurd, but at the same time joyous, exuberant and playful.

And then the story grows.  The crowds rush in.  In the Plaza Mayor in Madrid, exuberant Spaniards bound in and start to dance, fresh from a soccer game.  A gaggle of kids in Antseranana, Madagascar flash easy smiles while they dance.  More quick cuts of more people pouring in, from Brisbane to Dublin to Buenos Aires to Istanbul to Fiji…

You can say we are all one human race until you’re blue in the face.  Or you can see our common humanity all around the world in Matt’s Riverdance-meets-high-school-prom dance odyssey.

Reflecting on his world dancing tour, Matt observes that his (and everyone’s) “caveman” brain isn’t wired to handle all of this.  “My brain was designed to inhabit a fairly small social network of maybe a few dozen other primates-a tribe.”  He continues:

And yet here I am in a world of over six billion people, all of whom are now inextricably linked together. I don’t need to travel to influence lives on the other side of the globe. All I have to do is buy a cup of coffee or a tank of gas. My tribe has grown into a single, impossibly vast social network, whether I like it or not. The problem, I believe, isn’t that the world has changed, it’s that my primitive caveman brain hasn’t.

I am fantastic at seeing differences. Everybody is…. When I dance with people, it makes those differences seem smaller.

This is the modern-day challenge.  Whether it’s Al Gore on climate change; Tom Friedman on a world that is Hot, Flat and Crowded; China’s Premier Wen Jiabao on the safety of U.S. Treasury Bonds; or Jacqueline Novogratz telling her Blue Sweater story, we’re all saying the same thing:  that we have to rewire our brains to understand that our tribe has gone global.  That our actions and inaction truly do affect people we may never know or see, in a way they never have before.  And that we have an opportunity that we’ve never had before to make change on a global scale.

Our job is to keep on telling these stories, until our caveman (and cavewoman) brains catch up to this new reality.  Because I truly believe that we all would behave differently if we knew in every fiber of our being that we’re all, each and everyone of us, mostly the same.  And that there’s a lot we all can do to make the world better for all of us.

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One Response to Matt Harding’s caveman brain

  1. Pingback: The biggest risk online « Sasha Dichter’s Blog

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