#512 A Brief History of Lawns

Iconoclastically Expanding our Horizon of Possibilities

Yuval Noah Harari is a very smart man.

He got his PhD in history from Oxford and he’s written a couple of bestselling books: one called Sapiens (which provides “A Brief History of Humankind”) and the other called Homo Deus (which provides “A Brief History of the FUTURE” < emphasis mine.)

If you want to completely (!) change the way you see the world, read those books. (And, of course, check out the Notes for more.)

For today? Today we’re going to talk about lawns.

Lawns? Yep.

But… First, know this: Professor Harari tells us that we should study history so that we can learn that our modern cultures are neither “natural” nor “inevitable” nor ”immutable.” By recognizing that fact, we can broaden our “horizon of possibilities” and reimagine a better future.

Now… Back to the lawns.

In Homo Deus, Harari shares “A Brief History of Lawns” to bring his point home.

First, pop quiz: Do you have a lawn? If you’re a well-adjusted American, odds are you do. Even if you’re not, no matter where you are in the world, you probably get exposed to lawns and you’ve probably never thought about its origin story.

Here it is.

Back in the medieval day, resources were scarce. Peasant-people simply didn’t have the spare land and water and labor to create a completely useless piece of green turf.

But, you know who did? King Francois I!

Enter: The first “lawn” in history in front of his epic chateau in the Loire Valley.

Then… Enter: Dukes trying to show that THEY too had a ton of extra cash to blow on a piece of green turf in front of THEIR chateaus.

Fast-forward to modern times and you see a lawn in front of the White House and, again, if you’re a well-adjusted middle-class American, we’ll probably see a well-manicured lawn in front of YOUR house.

So… What’s that have to do with Optimizing your life? Well, we just want to realize that living in a culture that prizes things like “lawns” is not “natural, inevitable and immutable.”

With that super-simple insight, we can step back and see just how much of our current culture is ALSO not “natural, inevitable and immutable.”

(For example, you know that vacation you’re dreaming about? That’s another example of a myth programmed into our “romantic consumerism” culture so deeply that we take it for granted.)

And, of course, the only reason THAT’s relevant is that having that spacious perspective allows us to more consciously CHOOSE the life we want to create.

We’ll ALWAYS have the constraints of our culture to deal with but we can expand our horizon of possibilities—looking this way and that as we explore more options and strive to create a life of deeper personal meaning.

As Harari says: “There is no way out of the imagined order. When we break our prison walls and run towards freedom, we are in fact running into the more spacious exercise yard of a bigger prison.” But… “Some freedom is better than none.”

All of which leads us to Today’s +1.

When you see a lawn today—whether that’s in front of your house or in front of an important government building or on a soccer field or wherever—remember its origin story.

Perhaps we can playfully wink at the lawn and know that it’s just one of an infinite number of examples of the many things in our culture we take for granted that, upon slightly further reflection, are a bit silly.

Then, most importantly, from that more spacious perspective, let’s take a nice, deep breath, pull that thread through our head as we stand up a little taller and create a little more freedom as we reimagine our Optimal futures!

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