Martin Lewis: What makes us human – the sharing of ideas and knowledge

I was invited on to BBC Radio 2 Vine's 'What Makes Us Human' programme. The brief: "Write then read out an essay on one unique element of humanity, interspersed with some autobiographical notes". That was followed by an interview with Jeremy. That didn't go where I expected to, and I found it emotionally tricky at times, but we discussed important issues, so feel free to listen to the full

BBC Radio 2: Martin Lewis: What Makes Us Human interview

Here's the essay text...

Some are born with an ability to hear a piece of music, and instantly replay it on a piano. Others can fathom the inner workings of bodies, to create cures for diseases that once killed millions.

And I found I was able to read credit card rules and instantly see where they were ripping people off. OK, not in the same league of cool, but still I hoped it was worth sharing. And this ability to export knowledge far and wide is one uniquely human skill.

First it was through the oral tradition, and then more powerfully the written word, letting us project ideas into the future – so others can build on them via analysis, argument and debate; spreading loves, passion and imagination.

And within our lifetime humanity has again stepped forward in its ability to share.

Back in 2003, in my living room, for the princely sum of £80, I set up a website, to publish my MoneySaving ideas, journalism and research, directly, with anyone who wanted to hear it.

Then, and mostly now too, television and radio were the loudest route for a mass call to – in my case, fiscal – arms.

Yet for consumers to actually take action, it's detail that they need, and that's what the internet was first made for. 

And while broadcast and newsprint were historically controlled via corporate giants, a site like mine could be set up and thrive as, at first, a one man band. The seemingly limitless reach of technology, opening up a true democratisation of ideas.

It saw a new breed of community too. I remember an early thread in my forum, where a woman in her 70s with a hearing impairment was panicking at her failing PC – because if it broke it would effectively shut down her main access to the world. She was patiently guided in how to fix it, late into the night, by a tech-savvy university student she'd never met, who just happened upon her plea for help. Knowledge can be a gift, when shared truly.

Of course, nowt's perfect. Sometimes the ideas that should most be heard never echo beyond their origins. While others more salacious or dangerous reproduce and damage like a virus; lifting scams, conspiracies and disinformation out of dark corners to shine a pale light of seeming legitimacy on them.

Power, wealth and beauty can all pervert the meritocracy of ideas. I started my career without any of those, yet success now means I probably have more than my fair share of at least two of them... OK, well, two of them.

And while hard work, talent and focus all feed in to becoming successful, I firmly believe it's worth recognising there's always a decent dollop of luck involved too. I remember many sliding door moments that could have stopped things in their path.

Therefore, it's important that those who gain success recognise the part luck played and accept the implicit responsibility that comes from that. The responsibility to pay it back.

In my case, that's what still pushes me to keep working – keep providing access to knowledge and ideas. And to try and fill the gaps I can't reach in my day job via financial education, mental health & money campaigning and funding research.

And indeed for society, we need to hope that, as we spread more knowledge, there's also more education, more regulation and more discernment to help people separate the light from the dark. I think it will happen, I believe in humanity, even if I feel a bit of a prat for voicing it.

Related Links: 
- Martin Lewis: 10 things your child needs to know programme
- Martin Lewis's BBC Radio 4 Desert Island Discs
- #AskMartin podcast
- Martin Lewis biography