Finding Paulo Coelho’s The Pilgrimage, in the local Oxfam shop, I bought it thinking I had already read it. I hadn’t. It’s marvelous; and packed full of wisdom that makes this a reference book to keep on your shelf.
True path to wisdom
One of the nuggets I thought would come up again is the advice Coelho is given by his guide who was called Petrus in the book.
“The true path to wisdom can be identified by three things,” said Petrus. “First, it must involve agape, and I’ll tell you more about this later; second, it has to have practical application in your life. Otherwise, wisdom becomes a useless thing and deteriorates like a sword that is never used. “
“And finally, it has to be a path that can be followed by anyone. Like the road you are walking now, the Road to Santiago.”
Writing to remember
I don’t have a good verbal memory so I like to write about things and link them to similar ideas. That way, I’ll be able to recall the idea whenever I want to. My method satisfies step 2, I suppose! Blogging is practical.
Blogging also helps with step 3. Anyone with a computer and internet connection and some literacy or a camera can blog. About half the world, I suppose. It’s not a protected activity, anyway.
But agape? I write for a better understanding. Yes, that is agape. And I write to share. Not always well, but I try to be intelligible.
I worry though that I will reduce the ideas of Paolo Coelho to something prosaic and unworthy. For what it is worth, these are two ideas from other domains that I immediately wanted to compare with Paolo Coelho’s ideas about the path to wisdom.
Happiness and chaos/complexity theory
Losada modeled happiness in a butterfly shaped space. Contrary to views presented in the popular press, happiness isn’t a consistently cheery mood. It is appropriate reaction to events. We feel sad at sad times and happy at happy times but get stuck nowhere.
Ratio of positive to negative events
Losada uses three variables to model the space. The ratio of positive to negative in our environment must range from 3:1 to 11:1. 3:1 is a lot. For every jarring event, we need three good ones to recover. 5:1 is optimal. Sometimes we struggle to maintain that ratio and the struggle captures our focus. In these distressing times, we tend to exaggerate the bad by excluding what is good. The good gets buried and we are in danger of slipping so far down the ratio we might never recover our composure. Simply, we have to make a special effort to celebrate what is good in the situation to compensate our tendency to repeat the bad over and over again like a broken gramophone, presumably in the fear that if we don’t, it will bite us. I take that to be agape. The search for the good.
Other vs self
The second variable that Losada used was discussion of the outside world. When we balance discussion of the world outside our immediate circle and the needs of our circle almost our mood swings throughout the spectrum. We are less likely to see everything as all good or all bad.
To give you an example, I sometimes cheer myself up with an elaborate day dream of what I am going to do. When I go out into the world, I am living my dream. But people around me don’t see me that way. It’s like meeting a bucket of cold water! My immediate reaction is to feel small. A better reaction is to build up the dream to include them too. When my dream is not situated in the harsh realities of the world, other people will stop me, and more importantly my own sense of shock will stop myself. And then I am unhappy because nothing works!!
Inquiry vs Advocacy
The third variable that Losada used is a balance of inquiry and advocacy. At first sight, this is not the same as the criteria of universality, inclusion and humility that Coelho espouses, but when I put it like that, you possibly see the similarity.
Any way, I was struck by the similarity of ideas coming from different traditions and had to stop to test how far the ideas ran in parallel.
The second notion that struck me is that social media is successful because it also follows these principles.
Social media is a courteous world. Sure it has its spammers and robots and flamers but the general ethos is to be helpful. We simply get more done by celebrating what we can do together.
Social media is a practical world. I watch my rankings not out of vanity, though of course there is an element of vanity too. I watch my ranking and Google Analytics to help me find people who share my interests. “5 best way” articles are very popular and that is partly a search for practicality ~ but they belong in the point below. I write on blogs because they keep me grounded in reality (or at least more so than if I didn’t).
Social media is an inclusive world. Through teaching, I know that a major difference between Gen Y and earlier generations is that digital natives test information in their own lives and absorb it or not when they find it useful. When we can communicate useful (not popular) information, we see the response. Of course, popular also wins. Of course, tawdry also wins. Not everything useful is deep or good.
I know we can take the analogy too far and the poetic description is far better than the stilted prose of a former academic. I just wanted to test whether the three criteria ~ agape, practicality and openness ~ worked in other areas of my life.
Do they work for you?