The biggest part of the spring we‘ve been staying inside, framed within our home space, glancing out of the window or – staring into the computer screen, also a kind of window, with non-ending tasks to be completed and distance studying done. Many people kept repeating (including myself) that they‘ve been rediscovering their homes. As for the world outside, the new life appearing in spring vegetation and, especially, in budding trees has become an object of my observation – in absolutely new forms. Whereas the computer screen even replaced the ordinary book reading at times since many things of interest randomly started getting my way, without deliberate searching. Romance reading sort of stepped aside under the quarantine, but the good thing about the present condition is that it‘s impossible to impose the state of quarantine on our minds.
In the internet resources one is always offered a free choice – best suitable to one‘s mood, tastes, and state of mind. While browsing through different talk shows, in search of food for thought, I remembered how last term, with a group of students, we watched the video of Penguin Talk – Russell Brand‘s public conversation with Y. N. Harari about the future of education in the 21st century. This time I stopped at Evan Carmichael‘s compiled list of rules based on different extracts from talks given by Harari, with various talk hosts and on different occasions, under the common heading Learn HOW to Deal with Failure. By the way, at the very end of 2017, Evan Carmichael published his own book, The Top 10 Rules for Success. I know that many people tend to be skeptical about rules and insistent advice, but I view it as a good tool to measure my own understanding or belief. Thus, I invite you too to plunge into these tips and hints.
Rule One: Be adaptive. Be ready to adjust yourself to the changing world as every ten years or so in the nearest future we‘ll undergo another big shock, which will completely change our previously customary living and professional behaviour. This requires to develop the flexibility of our minds (though it‘s hardly possible to expect to earn a formal diploma in this field). Only a good balance of mental stability and emotional intelligence can help us to reinvent ourselves, Harari asserts. Already now we are on the threshold of huge technological changes. ( While I‘m hearing this, the thought comes to my mind about one of the most frequently pronounced statements these days about the time of COVID-19 crisis as a new possibility. Well yes, but how to store the psychological strength and energy to make it a fact of reality?).
Rule Two: Learn to deal with failure. Harari‘s example here is simple: If it happens that you fail an exam, in the developmental sense, you can benefit much more from that seemingly negative experience than from receiving an excellent grade at your first attempt. (Well, I‘m thinking, isn‘t it a bit risky to tell students that to fail your exams is a good thing? Certainly, not too good, but – quite valuable as an experiential asset that adds to your psychological maturity).
Rule Three: Be a storyteller. We as humans, Harari tells us, think in stories. We need a convincing story to make people understand us and believe in what we have got to tell them. It is not meant for entertainment alone, not for telling jokes. Different stories lead us to shaping our own opinions. What is the enormity of the crisis we are facing now? (For me as a teacher, this rule sounds important and valuable. I agree with Harari that other people’s stories that they share with us provide us with a kind of scaffolding in dealing with our own problems as such is the social nature of us as humans). On the other hand, the responsibility of the storyteller, in a wide sense, should by no means be neglected since, in Harari’s words, a good story creates a very good world and a bad story creates a problematic world.
Rule Four: Get to know yourself. In Harari’s view, it does not exclusively refer to intellect, it is important everywhere on the way to what we are doing daily, say, controlling our emotions. When we get angry with someone, we harm ourselves in the first place (though we may not be thinking in this way at that moment). Then, if we cannot recognize our emotions but appear in situations with power given to us to produce effect on other people, we may become dangerous individuals. Harari’s advice is to try developing compassion for other people.
Rule Five: Practice vipassana meditation. Meditation is not about special experiences, begins Harari. It is best to start with the simple exercise of observing your breathing (which is not that easy!). It will help to see reality more clearly. Our mind constantly wants to run forward, to run away, but conscious effort to stop and observe the reality around you brings in clarity, which, with time, teaches you to focus and discipline your mind.
Rule Six: Engage with spirituality. Spirituality is about moral things, not religion, says Harari. It is about raising big questions. If we seek to reduce suffering in the world, spiritual things acquire very practical applications in the form of steps we take to re-engineer the present reality and human living in it. Spirituality directly relates to philosophical thinking. (My digression here: in Lithuania we also start getting broad-minded professionals who claim that for instance economics belongs to the moral domain).
Rule Seven: Study philosophy. Harari’s comment about philosophers being extremely patient throughout the long years in history, since the start of philosophical thinking in ancient times, but with zero practical effect, amused the audience. Now the situation is changing dramatically in the sense that philosophical thinking in questions of professional ethics should lie at the basis of many practical solutions while projecting our future. The inventors and decision-makers have no intention of waiting, they are impatient to put their solutions to life.
Rule Eight: Read a lot of books. No wonder that reading and its value has long become a point taken for granted, but Harari makes it clear that selecting the books that captivate your attention from the very start is as important as the variety of books we choose to read.
Rule Nine: Develop your social skills. (The very word social under present circumstances jars on my ear with the redundant – and wrong in its essence – use of the phrase social distance instead of physical distance). Harari presents evidence that there exists no consistent match between the person’s physical strength and his social significance, and he mentions Pope Francis as an example. The situation in the world in general is of the kind that 50-70-year-olds dominate socially over 20-30-year-olds. As for his own role, Harari sees it in bringing more clarity to the public in conversation on what is happening in the world and how to make sense of it.
Rule Ten: Find your mission. (For me, the very word mission sounds demanding). Harari has his own mission clearly formulated: to speak to people about the three biggest threats for humankind at present: the nuclear war, the climate change, and the technological disruption. Harari believes that history is not about the past alone, it is also about the present and future. The other day my colleague Andrej gave quite feasible advice to students: What is your destination and how are you planning to get there? I would like to add: What and how much have we acquired in the period of the present quarantine? How wide is our window to the world we’ll have to return to?