Elizabeth Gilbert on self-kindness

 

1322855992563

Elizabeth Gilbert

 

In conversation with Krista Tippett of Onbeing, the phenomenal writer of Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert, shared her life-changing experience of four months she spent in India that taught her about self-kindness and letting go of self-loathing that had been a toxic for her life for years. We falsely often equate self-kindness with weakness. To Gilbert, without self-kindness or as she would say, “friendliness towards our selves”, the road to self-transformation might be a little harder to attain, or even unattainable. 

Ms. Tippett: . . .what are you learning about that you did not know before about what it means to be human?

Ms. Gilbert: . . .I feel like everything we want is on the other side of this dark river of self-hatred that is so prevalent in ourselves and in our culture. . .And I see self-loathing everywhere I look in so many different forms. And it’s so — it breaks my heart. And I also know self-loathing because I have been in it. Anybody who’s been in depression knows what self-hatred is. In many ways, depression is — the best definition of it is anger turned inward. So, there’s this battle that’s going on within you where you become a rival of yourself and an enemy of yourself. And what transformed my life about that journey that I took with Eat, Pray, Love were those four months that I spent in India where I had to be alone with myself, and we really made a peace accord. And when I say myself, I should say my selves. Because we’re not a self, we’re selves.

And one by one, I really went around to all my selves and we shook hands and made peace with each other and said, “We’re not going to operate against each other anymore. This has got to be a better neighborhood to live in. [laughs] We have to put down the weapons. We have to put down the old complaints. We have to put down the perfectionism. We have to put down the judgement. We have to put this stuff away because we’re doing such tremendous harm to this poor being, Liz, who has to carry this war around within her.” And so, I really came away from that trip having befriended — and the word “friendly” — I keep using it in this in conversation. And I use it a lot.

[. . .]

Ms. Gilbert:. . . That you’re a friend not only to the world, but to yourself. And there, you can find your way home, I think, in almost all circumstances. I hope. [laughs] Because I don’t know any other way. And that’s the best I’ve got.

To enjoy the full transcript of this remarkable conversation, please visit: (OnBeing)

The full podcast is below, exploring Gilbert’s insightful ideas on how to live a creative life which she describes as “choosing curiosity over fear”.

 

Steve Jobs on the secrets of life

 

 

Transcript from the interview between Steve Jobs and the Santa Clara Valley Historical Association in 1994:

When you grow up, you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world, try not to bash into the walls too much, try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money. But life, that is a very limited life. Life can be much broader. Once you discover one simple fact, and that is everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you, and you can change it, you can influence it. You can build your own thing that other people can use. 

And the minute that you understand that you can poke life and actually something , if you push in and something will pop out the other side, you can change it, you can mold it. That is maybe the most important thing. It is to shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you are just gonna live in it versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it.

I think that is very important, however you learn that, once you learn it, you will want to change life and make it better because it is kind of messed up in a lot of ways. Once you learn that, you will never be the same again.”

Via: (Silicon Valley Historical Association)

If you want to see the full-length interview with Steve Jobs discussing his values as a person and an entrepreneur, his thoughts on failure, and his advice to entrepreneurs, you can purchase the video here: (Silicon Valley Historical Association)

 

 

 

Albert Einstein on the danger of Specialization and the value of Liberal Arts Education

 

31011v

Albert Einstein with wife Elsa; State, War, and Navy building in background. Washington, D.C. Harris & Ewing Collection. Via (LOC)

 

Liberal arts education has become one of those overused terms like happiness and success that has slowly lost its intentional meaning. A liberal arts degree is often blamed for its impracticality and its bleak future for the graduates. Common conversations  mention that liberal arts degrees, such as English and philosophy, prepare their students for nothing but to be a coffee barista at Starbucks. Our culture of specialization, a culture that was heavily molded by the rise of industrialization in the 19th century, is obsessed with practicality and tends to shun everything that does not give us profitable, immediate, and countable results. Of course, it is hard to understand the reasons why people would spend four years of their own lives studying 19th century literature of Virginia Wolf or the history of ancient stoicism. The outcomes of learning those topics are hard to measure in any ways. This is not the failing of the choice that one engages, but it is the failing of our culture that does not recognize the deeper value of liberal arts education.

Albert Einstein expressed his disillusionment of the culture of specialization and the forgotten value of liberal arts education through a meaningful essay titled “Education for Independent Thoughts,” which was published in the New York Times on October 5th, 1952.  Later in 1954, this essay along with his other essays and speeches on Jewish people, the meaning of life, Germany, contribution to science, government, education, politics, and freedom were meticulously gathered into a book called Ideas and Opinions (Public Library).

Einstein began his essay by offering his reflective thoughts on the danger of specialization:

“It is not enough to teach man a specialty. Through it he may become a kind of useful machine but not a harmoniously developed personality. It is essential that the student acquire an understanding of and a lively feeling for values. He must acquire a vivid sense of the beautiful and of the morally good. Otherwise he–with his specialized knowledge–more closely resembles a well-trained dog than a harmoniously developed person.”

31012r

Albert Einstein, Washington, D.C. Harris & Ewing Collection. Via (LOC)

 

I like this notion of “a well-trained dog” that he coined. It is a harsh concept, but it illustrates precisely the characteristics of people who are afraid to explore outside of their own specialty bubbles. Then the question becomes: what one can do to be less like a “well-trained dog” and more like a “harmoniously developed person”? Einstein wrote:

“He must learn to understand the motives of human beings, their illusions, and their sufferings in order to acquire a proper relationship to individual fellow-men and to the community.”

In the second paragraph, he went on talking about the forgotten value of the humanities as a discipline. Our modern culture despises the humanities because they are impractical and being perceived as an abstract discipline.

“These precious things are conveyed to the younger generation through personal contact with those who teach, not–or at least in the main–through textbooks. It is this that primarily constitutes and preserves culture. This is what I have in mind when I recommend the “humanities” as important, not just dry specialized knowledge in the fields of history and philosophy.”

nypl.digitalcollections.5e66b3e8-85a9-d471-e040-e00a180654d7.001.w

Jewish-Palestine Participation- Einstein, Albert-At Podium. Via (NYPL Digital Collections)

Specialization does make everything more efficient and faster. It has given us some world-changing innovations from science, technology, to medical, and so on. However, behind its special perks, it blinds us to see any other existing ideas other than our own. It limits the way we think when solving a problem because we are only trained to see it form our own point of view. For Einstein, this is a very dangerous model of thinking to be massively glorified. He wrote:

“Overemphasis on the competitive system and premature specialization on the ground of immediate usefulness kill the spirit on which all cultural life depends, specialized knowledge included.”

nypl.digitalcollections.5e66b3e9-221b-d471-e040-e00a180654d7.001.w

Jewish-Palestine Participation-Einstein, Albert-With Grover Whalen at podium. Via (NYPL Digital Collections).

 

Besides believing that humans must “learn to understand the motives of human beings, their illusions, and their sufferings in order to acquire a proper relationship to individual fellow-men and to the community,” Einstein wholeheartedly believed that the selectivity of information, both in terms of the topics chosen and the amounts of topics being chose were the crucial factors that could mold one into a well-developed person. He also argued that overburdening one’s mind with too much useless information would achieve him or her nothing but superficiality. In the last couple of sentences, he wrote:

“It is also vital to a valuable education that independent critical thinking be developed in the young human being, a development that is greatly jeopardized by overburdening him with too much and with too varied subjects. Overburdening necessarily leads to superficiality. Teaching should be such that what is offered is perceived as a valuable gift and not as a hard duty.”

This sentence that Einstein wrote from the previous excerpt, “. . .a development that is greatly jeopardized by overburdening him with too much and with too varied subjects.” raised another critical question for me: how much is too much subjects? Is not the whole notion of liberal arts education teaching us to learn from a lot of disciplines ranging from history, literature, sociology, biology, and so on? I sensed a contradiction in what he said about the value of liberal arts education. At the beginning of the essay, he was championing the idea of studying humanities, but later towards the end of the essay, he made a case that though a liberal arts education gives us a permission to be exposed by those multiple disciplines, we need to be very cautious when it comes to deciding what discipline that we choose to learn from. 

So much what Einstein wrote reminded me of the convocation speech that David Foster Wallace delivered in Kenyon College, three years prior to the heartbreaking news of his suicide. In it, he talked about many things– those that we always know they are true but we often forget to practice: compassion and kindness, the trap of prestige, and the value of liberal arts education. This topic about the value of liberal arts education spoke to me dearly. In it he wisely said:

“. . .Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about ‘the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.’ . . .”

If you are curious about the rest of David Foster Wallace’s remarkable speech about the value of liberal arts education, here is the recording of his speech on SoundCloud:

 

 

 

George Saunders on the value of Kindness

 

 

“What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. Those moments when another human beings was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded. . .sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.”–George Saunders.

Beautifully illustrated by Tim Bierbaum of Serious Lunch and narrated by George Saunders himself, this video was inspired by the commencement speech that George Saunders gave for the class of 2013 at Syracuse University. In our age of endless cruelty and selfishness, we need kindness more than anything else. To be kind is to acknowledge the fundamental truth of humanity, that is human beings are essentially collages of other humans’ actions and dreams, alive or dead. 

To cherish Saunders’ wisdom on kindness, read his full speech on The New York Times