Friday, 20 January 2017

Why we have an insatiable thirst for inspiring stories

Here are the links to three interviews, just published, about my latest book "Thriving in Difficult Times: Twelve Lessons from Ancient Greece to Improve Your Life Today."
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You might be surprised to learn that, for a substantial part, comic-book readers are neither children nor teenagers. Enthusiastic collectors know every Spiderman adventure by heart and, nowadays, internet sites allow people to trade old editions of Superman adventures. We cannot tell exactly how many adults are still burning with that flame, but the number goes into the thousands.

The search for inspiration

Romantic movies and pocket books are steadfastly consumed by many women from the cradle to the grave. The details portrayed in sentimental tales have become more explicit in the last decades, but the old feelings are still there. The size of the market, if we include romantic TV serials, amounts to billions of US dollars per year.

The demand for stories continues to grow worldwide, 24 hours a day, never taking a single day of vacation. Since Ancient Greece, the three acts are still played out relentlessly, as though the world had never changed. The discovery of a kindred spirit, the abandonment to passion, and the victory over difficulties fill our television screens, movie theatres, bookshops, and popular magazines.

What lesson can be learned from this flood of adventure and everlasting hope? If you think that this is a meaningless phenomenon, please pause and make a list of the people you know who never watch such films, buy such books, or follow such stories on TV. Chances are that your list will be short. Here is why:

  1. Directness: An important segment of the population draws their ethical convictions from popular fiction, whether in the form of novels, films, or television episodes. Intellectual approaches to morality, philosophy, and happiness are as rare as purely rational investors.
  2. Immediacy: There are good reason why human beings prefer to take their ethical cues from fiction rather than from professional philosophers. If only because movies, TV films, and comic-books are more fun, cheaper, and more readily accessible than sophisticated moral discourse.
  3. Speed: Amongst a wide variety of abstract ideas, it is difficult to tell which one is true. On the other hand, fiction can be quickly judged as entertaining or boring, satisfying or disconcerting. Well-constructed stories present self-contained value assessments that can be instantly apprehended.
Stories convey philosophy

The conclusion is not that you should discard organized thinking and research as tools for establishing the truth. By all means, push your intellectual and business pursuits forward, but do not underestimate the difficulty of communicating complex chains of thoughts to unfamiliar audiences.

My point is that stories offer a short-cut for presenting philosophical ideas. A dry exposition will always lose against a sequence of dramatic images held together by clear motivation. Making your argumentation easily accessible is frequently as important as ensuring that you are building your thoughts on consistent premises.

When it comes to the ability to show what is right and wrong, comic-book characters and romantic heroines form the most effective group of teachers to learn from. Let us acknowledge the power of sharp story-telling, extract the best it has to offer, and use it to our advantage.
 


[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by holga_new_orleans under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books

 
 
 


Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Crucial lessons from Ancient Greece to improve your life today

Here is the link to the interview by Chris Shea on his podcast "On Finding Peace" about my latest book "Thriving in Difficult Times: Twelve Lessons from Ancient Greece to Improve Your Life Today."

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How long will it take until you have to face an emergency? Earthquakes are unusual in most parts of the world, but few men are exempted from the risk of fire at home or at work. How would you react if you were attacked by a tiger? What would you do in case of a flood?

Misfortune tends to hit at the most inconvenient moments. When bad luck runs wild, it may cut its path across our lives and destroy the work of decades. Do you have a system to deal with emergencies? Have you prepared a back-up plan for cases of catastrophic failure?

A forgotten lesson

Most people who study Socrates (469-399 BC) as a philosopher retain few teachings of substance. This Ancient Greek philosopher is reputed for his skill at asking long series of questions aimed at revealing contradictions, discarding fallacies, and establishing truth. However, the most interesting lesson from his life is seldom pointed out.

According to Plato (428-347 BC), Socrates loved to question what everybody else considered self-evident. He would engage debates with prominent Athenian citizens and use his sharp mind to demonstrate the immorality of some comforts, the inconsistency of certain principles, and the difficulty of many truths.

Most of what we know about Socrates concerns his death. By the time he turned 70 years old, he had accumulated many friends but also a substantial number of enemies. While a minority of citizens appreciated Socrates' passion for philosophical conversation, he was detested by the subjects of his constant criticism. At one point, his opponents raised charges against him and demanded that he was put on trial.

Although the accusations against Socrates did not make much sense, the important point is that such trial could lead to a death sentence. If we trust Plato's recollections, the charges must have not taken Socrates by surprise. He had spent most of his life in Athens and was well acquainted with its customs and procedures. He knew what he risked if he was convicted.

High levels of stress

The fact of being indicted causes great distress to any human being even if the complaints against him are false. One can hardly imagine an emergency most pressing than having to face a jury invested with the power to weigh your every word and put an end to your life in this world.

Plato's account of the trial describes Socrates' eloquent and passionate defence. The old philosopher countered the charges against him with facts, logic, and courage. He argued for his innocence and invoked his previous services to Athens. He pleaded with arguments that appealed to reason and emotion, expecting to be acquitted or, at worst, mildly reprimanded.

Even so, despite all his strenuous efforts, Socrates was condemned to death. The sentence was executed by making Socrates drink a mixture of hemlock, a Mediterranean plant whose poisonous effects are similar to those of curare: the muscles of the victim become progressively paralysed until he can no longer breathe.

What makes the story fascinating is that Socrates had the possibility to flee but refused to do it. This aspect is so intriguing that Plato devoted one of his works to explain why Socrates agreed to face his accusers at the peril of his life.

Crito, an Athenian businessman, was one of Socrates' friends who stood by him at all times during the trial. When Crito proposed a plan to escape jail, Socrates did not consent. When Crito volunteered to bribe the prison guards, Socrates did not accept.

A surprising decision

Twenty-four centuries later, Socrates' decision seems as incomprehensible as it must have been in Ancient Greece. If you ask anyone in the street about what to do in case of fire, he will tell you to run. When human beings face emergencies, survival instincts often prove more reliable than a hundred essays on ancient philosophy.

Although Plato wrote extensively to explain why Socrates did not flee, the truth is that we have no idea. Xenophon (430-354 BC), an Ancient Greek historian, argues that Socrates was too old and had lost the will to live. How accurate is this theory?

Defeatism, which might apply to those who are terminally ill, seems difficult to conciliate with Socrates' energetic defence during the trial. If he had given up on life altogether, why did he bother to refute the accusations? Why did he try to convince his opponents of his innocence?

Even though we'll never know which version of the story corresponds to the facts, there is a crucial lesson to be drawn. What would you have done? Would you have accepted Crito's offer to escape jail? Would you have fled your city and gone away?

The healthy reaction

Irrespective of the soundness of the charges against Socrates, the tale of his trial might denote a negative aspect of the great philosopher's character: vanity. Did Socrates' desire to demonstrate his innocence and prove his point prevent him from running for safety?

Plato's account shows that Socrates must have been aware that he could not expect a fair trial. How can we understand Socrates' unhealthy reaction to such an emergency? If given the possibility, any rational man would have fled, stabilize his situation, and later tried to erase his accusations.

Taking swift protective action is the proven system for dealing with emergencies. Once you are safe, the next step is to achieve stability and come up with a recovery plan. We cannot ascertain if vanity did Socrates in, but the principle is valid all the same: when an emergency breaks out, put your pride aside and take the necessary action.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image: Photograph of ancient vase; photograph taken by John Vespasian, 2016]

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books
 
 
 


Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Train yourself to be more entrepreneurial in 2017

You can win big in 2017 by adopting an entrepreneurial mentality because it will allow you to overcome problems that other people find insurmountable, enabling you to detect hidden solutions and opportunities in difficult situations.

How can you train yourself to be more entrepreneurial? Taking risks, staying alert, and being quick at exploiting chance encounters are things that do not come naturally to most of us. Nevertheless, like any other skill, entrepreneurship becomes sharper through practice or by reading The John Vespasian Letter

The best approach is simply to make a list of those traits that you wish to acquire and work constantly at improving the quality of your thinking. What are the characteristics of the entrepreneurial mind? My own list contains five points.

1. TOLERANCE: What does a moral virtue have to do with entrepreneurship? Everything. Intolerance and inflexibility are deadly poisons when it comes to detecting opportunities and taking initiative. Unless you push yourself to tolerate uncertainty and risk beyond normal levels, your mind will never operate on a high entrepreneurial gear.

2. INDEPENDENT THINKING: Start questioning things that seem self-evident. Why should you follow traditions that make no sense? Can things be improved? Why do we have to wait in line to purchase certain products or services? Is there a better way? When everything is expensive, try cheap. When everything is cheap, try borrowing. The best opportunities lie always below the surface.

3. CONSISTENT AMBITION: There is moral ambition and there is the search of wealth. In addition, many others are embarked in a quest for honours or simply desire to make the world a better place. Pick your choice and keep it present in your mind. What really counts here is consistency. Random changes in your goals will block your entrepreneurial vision. Confusion generates chaos. Consistency of purpose sharpens the mind.

4. DETERMINATION: Whatever path you take, you will face opposition and criticism. Ambition is worthless unless it is accompanied by an iron determination to persist, to try again, to stand up and push repeatedly until the wagon moves. Why do different people possess unequal levels of determination? Personal philosophy plays a major role in this. Those who have a stable, rational, and integrated view of the world tend to advance faster on the entrepreneurial road.

5. A FEELING OF DISSATISFACTION: Contented souls seldom have the drive that is necessary to challenge the way things are. On many occasions, entrepreneurship is linked to personal dissatisfaction with a product, service, or environment. Annoyance and irritation can fuel the motor of change. A strong wish to turn the present into a better future is the thread line of many entrepreneurial careers.


Make your own list of the traits that you want to develop in 2017, and place it in a visible place in your kitchen or bathroom. The world of tomorrow is shaped by those who reflect on their life's purpose while cooking and brushing their teeth.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by individuo under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us] 

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books 
 
 
 


Saturday, 24 December 2016

Sustaining your long-term motivation is crucial


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Wind erodes mountains into hills. Water excavates rocks into caverns. Stimuli of all kind affect our state of mind, sometimes positively, frequently to make it worse. Even if you lived in a desert island, you would not be immune to this phenomenon, since floods or drought might shift your focus all the same.

Do not let your motivation wane

The results of such influences can last minutes or weeks. Sustaining your motivation is crucial when you are involved in long-term projects, such as obtaining a college degree or starting up a business. How can you prevent that negative events consume your energies and ruin your temper?

Most popular recommendations in this respect do not work. For instance, repeating encouraging messages to yourself will seldom eradicate deep-rooted feelings of anxiety. Beliefs in supernatural forces might soothe fear for a while, but sooner or later, reality will return harder than ever. Telling yourself that everything is for the better, when it is not, is demeaning and psychologically destructive.
 

The best approach

Rational living is the best approach to ensure that you start each day in a good mood. When used consistently, it leads to serenity, enhances productivity, and reinforces personal effectiveness. What you need to stay optimistic is not fantasy, but objectivity. If you maintain a balanced view of the world, pessimism cannot take over your feelings.

My suggestion is simple and it is based on the observation that all of us tend to exaggerate problems. Our closeness to current unpleasant events, such as failure or rejection, deprives us of perspective. What you need to do is to write down a list of your assets and place it where you can see it every morning.

Make a thorough inventory of everything you have in your favour. Do not overlook any of your qualities and possessions, since other people may lack those. If you have an excellent health, you might be taking that for granted, but don't forget that, in any country, a percentage of the population suffers from serious disease.
 

The factors playing in your favour

Add up your skills, what you own and whom you know, your half-done projects and your latest initiatives. The point is not to make you look good in the face of other people's misery, but to remind you of the extent of your resources. As counterpoint to the latest annoyance, we can all use a fresh view of our own capabilities.

Neither problems should be magnified beyond reason nor opportunities forgotten. Whatever challenges you are facing, it is good to keep in mind all factors that play in your favour. Devote some time during the Christmas season to making the list of your personal assets, and let it shed a reassuring light on your plans for 2017. With time and perspective, most of today's adversities might be remembered, if at all, as minor inconveniences. 


My very best wishes for Christmas to all readers. 
May the New Year bring you closer to your goals.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by Athena's Pix under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]


For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books 
 
 
 

Monday, 12 December 2016

Personal growth begins when you make the first move


Aristotle was a great philosopher, but entrepreneurship was one thing that he never managed to understand. In the Nicomachean Ethics, his essay on justice and morality, he views society as a market where human desires are stable, where the demand for each product is constant, and each purchase has a predictable price.

One does not need to look at the world for long to rate Aristotle's view as highly unrealistic. The truth is that, in the field of work and commerce, prices vary incessantly. New products appear daily on the market. Growing ventures create jobs, while old-fashioned industries are reducing the number of their employees. Trading conditions change, markets move, and money circulates.


Businessmen are conscious of the fact that initiative leads to success. Entrepreneurship is the lifeblood of innovation. Economic growth begins with one person making the first move and showing the way. In order to surpass average results, a man has to step out of the routine.

In the world of business, clients and profits are the result of entrepreneurship. A company that has profitable sales can always borrow money. Bankers seldom refuse a loan to businesses that generate positive cash-flow. Personal initiative fuels innovation and drives companies to higher levels of performance.

The situation is not much different in the area of relationships. Friendship and love grow stale without personal initiative. Developing a happy social life requires a certain type of entrepreneurship. This is a factor that cannot be replaced by any amount of wishful thinking.


The entrepreneurial factor

Unfortunately, the entrepreneurial factor in love and happiness is frequently underrated or denied. Television repeatedly shows stories where success happens by chance. Films love to portray heroes who attain happiness by coincidence without any effort from their side. Those tales are mostly made-up and a wise man should never take them as a fair representation of reality.

Entrepreneurial activity involves shifting resources through time and space. A businessman might, for instance, borrow money at 6% interest in order to invest it for a 10% return. If he does that several times with growing sums of money, chances are that he will become very wealthy.

The example can be applied to the field of relationships. If you wish to enjoy a great social life in the future, you should make the effort to establish new contacts regularly. Even if you just meet one new person per week, sooner or later, you will get to know a few individuals who share your values.


Fresh opportunities

Friendships and love relations can begin in the most unusual circumstances. The key requirement is that individuals should be open to an initial contact. Brief introductions may lead to further interactions that develop into long-term relationships. This is why entrepreneurs are always alert to unexpected opportunities and love to meet new people. You will observe the same attitude in those who enjoy happy social lives.

Entrepreneurial minds can be spotted by their extreme impatience at school or during their apprenticeship. They dislike slow motion and are driven towards activities that produce tangible results. They want to lead a life of growing improvement and continuous progress. They view speed as a synonym of efficiency.

Let me encourage you to adopt an entrepreneurial attitude in the area of personal relationships. Everybody has constrains in terms of time and resources, but those limitations should not prevent you from seeking out opportunities to meet new people whom you might find interesting.

Conferences that revolve around your favourite subjects constitute great places for meeting like-minded individuals. In the majority of cases, those initial contacts will not lead to friendship or love and that is precisely the way it should be.

Entrepreneurs are only interested in opportunities that are right for them. They know that, before they can embrace one successful idea, they will have to discard many others that lead nowhere. Possibilities are infinite, but resources are always limited.


Applying entrepreneurial principles to the field of personal relationships entails accepting that choices have to be made. The following ideas might help you improve your effectiveness in developing new social contacts, either for friendship or love:

The world is asymmetric


The notes in the agendas of entrepreneurs are often disorganized. Possibilities for personal growth and social development seldom present themselves in a predictable manner. Meeting new people can be a messy, uncomfortable process.

When personal contacts go beyond a brief introduction, we often realize that our first impression of someone was wrong. Language and cultural differences can be misleading. The world is not arranged according to geometric patterns. Social opportunities fluctuate and can be highly asymmetric. The best you can do is to view the world as a playing ground for your individual initiative.

Targets move


Entrepreneurs realize that new possibilities are continuously being created. As time goes by, windows of opportunity appear and disappear. The same phenomenon takes place in the field of personal relationships. Environments change. Tastes evolve. People come and go.

There is not just one unique place where you can meet potential friends or a soul mate. There is not just one day of the week when you can make new acquaintances. Targets move as you breathe. A person that you meet by chance might be exactly the sort of friend you need at this moment, or not at all. The more people you meet, the higher your chances of finding like-minded individuals.


Continuous improvement


When a businessman decides to enter a new market, his resolution affects his attitude towards that field. If you are considering purchasing a car of a specific type, you will tend to focus your attention on those vehicles when you are driving on the highway.

The proportion of those cars in the street traffic would be the same as last week, but due to your change of perspective, you are now more aware of their presence. The same goes for opportunities of personal growth and social development.

If you adopt an entrepreneurial attitude towards friendship and love, you will be able to detect hidden possibilities in otherwise boring meetings. As you become more used to taking initiative, your results and self-confidence will improve, if only because you will discard quickly those relationships that don't work.


The ability to develop great relationships can be cultivated like any other. Taking initiative, seeking opportunities, and learning from mistakes lead to continuous improvement. At some point, when an entrepreneurial attitude towards relationships becomes your second-nature, you will have acquired a fundamental skill to further your personal happiness.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by katsrcool under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]


For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books