How to Change the World

This is a review of  How to Change the World: The School of Life by Jean-Paul Flintoff

There’s a guy on my Facebook friends list to whom I haven’t spoken in years. He was the kind of person who really knew how to make things happen. For every single act of service I did in the community, this guy would start a movement. And not just any movement: he triggered severalnational students’ networks that spanned universities up and down the US east coast and well into the west. He had contacts with politicians – the  ones who were “kind of a big deal.” As I understand it, it was his network that brought the late Ted Kennedy to our campus following a small student protest about the rights of workers in our local student centre. This guy was a legend. Let’s call him Steve.

I don’t think we liked each other very much.

That’s because every time I spoke to him, I was consumed by feelings of inferiority that took the form of pointless pedantry and inarticulate debate. Not a pretty picture of myself.

I just finished reading How to Change the World over my lunch break today. It’s a brief read and part of a series publication called ‘The School of Life’ that includes other titles that promise readers a bite-sized piece of thoughtfulness. In my experience, this book went rather well with a cup of coffee and offered me a lot more energy than would, say, a Mars bar.

When I opened the book, I was sceptical: how is a book really honestly going to empower me to have a greater impact on the world? All the usual scripts were running about how I work 9-5, how I’m using my free time to write a novel, how I have no real capital or time to contribute at scale. But I also thought of Steve. I’ve looked at his Facebook page recently and he’s still up to his old tricks – travelling the world and making change. Even finds time to take beautiful photographs – from Tahrir Square to Bob & Suzy McGorgeousson’s wedding. What does he know that I don’t?

How to Change the World does not have the answer to that question, I can tell you now.  What it does have, though, is perspective in abundance… seasoned with ideas from great philosophers, thinkers, and world changers.  It starts by stripping away those defeatist thoughts and the feelings of inferiority that come by judging someone else’s actions more worthy than your own. Then it rolls through strategies and practical examples from the profound to the day-to-day: community-minded goodness we can add into the world. Like taking home-grown tomatoes to the neighbours – inspiring them to do it too.

And this book reminds us, too, that events proved profound by history took lots of small steps by average people… who probably felt pretty average while they took them. I wonder if Steve ever feels average… I wonder how many tiny daily steps he’s taken through the years…

“As Nietzsche said, ‘not every end is a goal. The melody is not a goal.’ Which is to say – we don’t go to a concert and say we wish the music would hurry up and finish so we could enjoy it. We enjoy it as it goes along. So instead of imagining your mission as a painting, think of it as a piece of music… Ask yourself ‘what can I do in the next 24 hours? Because if you don’t do anything in 24 hours, what makes you think you ever will?” – from How to Change the World

No, the book couldn’t tell me what he knows that I don’t: and that’s because, other than how to speak Arabic, I’m not sure Steve does know something new. He just has a different state of mind. Well, I’ll be damned…isn’t that always how it goes?

If interested, you can get  How to Change the World: The School of Life by Jean-Paul Flintoff on Amazon.


2 thoughts on “How to Change the World

  1. broadsideblog

    Loved this post and your thoughts behind it. I wish more people stopped to realize what incredible power we each have, and know that it only happens when we do something. Not talk about it or think about it but take the risk of doing it. People are very hungry for real and inspired leadership — not the corporate BS of leading a profit-making pile of employees (yes, of course that has value) — but having the vision, charisma and energy to lead others to do great things.

    I came up with the idea of a small women-only conference and began talking about it to others recently, women I think are amazing. Everyone was super interested, which surprised me. I had no idea. I’ve never done anything like it and am now trying to sustain my energy/time/commitment to it to see if I can actually make it happen. If others can (and have) why not me?

    1. emgarber Post author

      Thank you so much for commenting – I completely agree: the world would be a better place if we all harnessed our own potential. In fact, I think that was the essence of the quote on my own business card as a young lady (see my homepage), “within each of us is a power and a glory beyond all the wonders of the earth.” -em mcsmartypants

      I think I had it on a pencil.

      Loving the idea of a women-only conference. Hope you maintain the energy – I’m sure you will!


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