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The Thoughts section of this website blog, is dedicated to personal musings related to my self-designation as a life-guru and a history lover. Adding to this now, I’d like to include reviews of certain books that are in-line with this stream.
In this review, we look at the Pulitzer prize-winning ‘The Lessons of History’ written by Will and Ariel Durant. The historians/philosophers/sociologists have provided an awesome breakdown of the various lessons history can teach our post-modern world. Despite it being an enjoyable read, I had one major issue with it: lacked impartiality.
There were times when I thought to myself, is this a piece of propaganda promoting Western ideas and civilisation or an impartial analysis of what contributed to the fall and rise of empires throughout history?? There’s no doubt about the progressive nature, in parts, of our modern society. However, to write a book about the lessons of history and only include in it the ancestors of Western civilisation is pretty damn introspective.
The book continuously mentions the British empire and now the USA as the beacons of Western civilisation, following on from the Ancient Greeks and the Roman empire. This denies any input to human civilisation from empires such as Ancient Egypt, Persia, The Seljuks, Abassid, Umayyad and Ottoman empires to mention a few.
Beyond that, I did find the content to be well-thought out, structured and surprisingly short. The whole book barely read over 100 pages, nonetheless there was plenty to take out of it. Many young readers would find it extremely politically incorrect, however history does not stand to prove one person’s opinion over the other. The book highlights this, but also reminds the reader of some key global rules that we are severely overlooking today.
I think what stood out to me out of the whole book was a one statement about the relationship between freedom and equality. They mention, “Freedom and equality are sworn and everlasting enemies, and when one prevails the other dies.”
Entire societies are based upon the principles of freedom and equality. To see that they are in effect, inversely proportional, completely changed the way I view these principles. The way these manifest themselves in the practical world are what leads to the differing outlooks of societies.
If we rely on a Darwinian interpretation of this statement, similar to that of the complete liberties that many on the alt-right advocate for, the world will look much like the animal kingdom. The strong survive, while the weak perish.
On the other side of the spectrum, people become mere robots and lack the agency or capacity to facilitate their own dreams. Those in-charge can easily abuse power, especially with no in-built checks and balances to counter that.
Of-course, as with most things, the best solution lies somewhere in the middle. A fact the authors acknowledge, but then again a hybrid solution can also take many forms.
The phrase ‘get comfortable being uncomfortable’ is out of touch with reality. Let me explain.
The expression by its very definition goes against what it means to get out of your comfort zone. When we are told to get out of our comfort zone, it is to reach the boundary between inner peace and anxiety. You are to push yourself to the point where you induce an anxious state that through experience you have learned to qualm.
Case in point
The greatest example highlighting what’s been said above is that of public speaking. I remember reading a ridiculous stat that said something like 75% of Americans are petrified of public speaking. I’m sure the figures are similar in other parts of the world.
When getting up to speak publicly, everybody feels a little queasy, knots in their stomach and to a certain extent, has a mini-anxiety attack. This is an uncomfortable situation for the vast majority. However what differs whether you drown in sweat and panic or rise to the occasion and nail it, is mindset and experience.
Experienced speakers go through the same pre-talk nerve wreck stage, but they have been through it so many times they can skip the pre-game nerves. They develop coping mechanisms allowing them to take it all in their stride. Some may hold their hands together while others walk across the stage.
Where’s this going I hear you ask? Time to bring it altogether.
Bring it in
Public speaking is something people often feel very uncomfortable doing. It represents an uncomfortable state of affairs that brings many to their wits end. It is not dissimilar to transcending an individual’s comfort zone and moving into the world of discomfort. As children we did this on a regular basis as it was necessary for progression from one phase of human development to the next.
As a child you experienced many moments of anxiety and embarassment. Difference is, you did not worry about how you looked going through these phases. You accepted this as the standard or didn’t think of what the standard was at all.
As adults, we are more in tune with our emotional side and find it increasingly difficult to deal with the blows to our self-esteem. In turn, we can develop ways of coping with these feelings when they arise, just like the public speaker. Every person will find a unique way of doing this, or hear it from someone and find it works for them.
If there’s anything I can contribute it’s to be that child again, only this time a wiser version.:)
It’s not a sudden realisation, but it is a realisation nonetheless, most of us find it so much easier to just ‘go with the flow’. That flow can be for either good or bad. We often just find ourselves following whatever everybody else is doing. It seems as if, many are hardwired to follow what the majority are following.
This manifests itself in so many different aspects of our society. In fact, so many corporations and industries thrive on it. Take celebrities and stars of all kinds as an example. They are often creating waves with the latest in fashion trends, whether it be the dab, the mohawk, ripped jeans and many others. We find that many among the millions of followers these people possess, will see this as a reason to do the same. This doesn’t necessarily indicate something negative however, in many aspects we limit ourselves when we cannot think beyond the confines of the group.
Furthermore, if it wasn’t for those among us who were able to pry away from the conformity in thinking in the past, our societies wouldn’t have advanced. The industrial revolution wouldn’t have occurred, medicine would have stayed mere evidence lacking herbal remedies and our society would still be travelling on horse-back!
Before I proceed though just a word of caution, this kind of mentality and mindset is only for those who are able and willing to endure the consequences of non-conformity. I will tell you why this warning was issued. What tends to occur is that when one deviates from the systemic thinking of all those that surround them, this can be misunderstood as a rejection of the surrounds.
This often leads to those who decide to deviate from the general brain chain, being viewed as outcasts and end up leading solitary lives. The solitary nature of their lives is necessary in order to cultivate their minds that can not be sustained by the simple nature of the many lives around them.
The ability to be comfortable with one’s own company, allows them to envision, imagine and broaden their scope. They will no longer settle for the status quo that swarms the world around them, but will continue to search for ways to improve their surroundings.
We are social beings, therefore such a livelihood is not for the faint of heart. Hence the above mentioned caution. Many, in fact the majority, will not deem this a suitable way of living and that is why these people are so few and memorable in our common history.
Societal definitions of success are not those written in dictionaries, but rather those defined by who we idolise. I say this because I believe it is a root cause of many of the obvious social problems we face today. Depending on the socially constructed prototype of who we deem successful, we begin to revere those that embody what we believe is success.
A quick scan of today’s scene and we see a common theme pop-up. There are a large number of us that can forget about most of the other aspects that make up an individual, if they have a powerful status or possess riches. It is understandable that as people, we desire these things for ourselves, so we value them and view them as desirable.
However seeing these things as the goal of success or as defining success, is where the problem lies. People in these positions will bow to the wave of public opinion and the values we as a public are looking for these people to possess. Hence, if we accept that our favourite products can be made at the hands of child labourers as long as the price is right, then companies will do just that.
If as a society these actions are denounced, we not only regain our conscience but also influence processes through our ideals. Companies will no longer look to take shortcuts to provide the price that is most profitable, instead they will consider the backlash of their clientele.
Wealth, fame and power should not be defining of success. These are instead mere tools to build an environment that can nurture ongoing success. It is also troubling that success is defined in such an absolute, arbitrary manner. Success is not an attainable target, but rather the ongoing achievement of set targets. Indeed success is not achievable, if it was we would be perfect creatures but we are fallible as human beings.
The type of success I ask to be at the forefront of our minds, is that which reminds us of being virtuous to one another. A success that spreads the positive aspect of humanity from one heart to the next. Indeed a success that leads to the improvement of people’s circumstances, not just their egos or desires.
Let us redefine success, in order to redefine what we view as important. Thereafter, we may be able to deal with the symptoms that are a consequence of this collective mentality.
In a society that has become pre-occupied with fulfilling individual wants, we have forgotten the importance of community. The importance of giving of ourselves to benefit others. This is a concept I like to call being of benefit to others.
If you know anything about philosophy, you know they can argue for hours on end and still not come to a definitive conclusion. However, there is something they don’t disagree about, that is that true happiness comes from giving, not taking.
So, why do I mention that? Our consumerist culture, has meant that we are constantly wanting people or organisations to provide convenience for us as individuals. If it’s an app or website, it’s not allowed to glitch, because how dare we wait. Any company service needs to happen at lightning speed, otherwise they lose our attention and ultimately their customer.
Marketers and salespeople thrive on our need for convenience, commonly citing the fact that consumers have a focus of 8-9 seconds. If you can’t catch them within this time period, you may have potentially lost yourself a customer or a sale. I myself worked in sales for over a year and implemented this concept.
When cold-calling, I wouldn’t use the common introduction method but rather resorted to trigger or buzzwords. These trigger or buzzwords would baffle the potential client and lead them along the line of thinking I wanted them to head down.
At this point you’d be forgiven for thinking, where on earth is this heading. That’s well within your rights, now let me bring it altogether. The things mentioned above are symptoms of our society’s shift towards an individualistic lifestyle. A lifestyle increasingly becoming dictated by what we want as individuals, rather than channelling it into the way we can benefit those around us and society as a whole.
Some may misunderstand this for an attack on people attaining success and becoming rich and famous. This is completely not the case, in fact the way we define success I will comment on in a future post. A little snapshot of that post may lead along the line of using the above as tools rather than defining them as goals within themselves.
On a final note, I would like to also critique the way we give to others. Many businesses and people, give in order to receive something in return. That is not the kind of giving I am eluding to here. It is a type of service to others that people who volunteer in many not-for-profits entertain and it is that of not expecting a return.
Innately, we think that for every action there must be some sort of compensation, whether it be short or long term. In this type of giving, the return is not tangible or able to be seen. In fact, I can’t explain what kind of reward lies on the other side of helping others without expecting anything in return. I’m hoping you may be able to tell me how it felt for you instead.