Food for Thought

This is a page where I’ll compile my posts on books, programmes, people, events, etc – anything that’s made me think!

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.

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