A deeply perceptive (short) paperback on the self-renewal of individuals and societies; why some decay and others remain innovative and creative. Now in his 90th year, Mr. Gardner continues to teach at Stanford. In clear, concise terms the author sets down the factors that produce deterioration in people and societies. He maintains they are caused mostly by failure to deal with change. The factors? He names five.
SELF-DEVELOPMENT. Not just skills, but the whole range of our own potentialities for sensing, wondering, learning, understanding and aspiring. Gardner points out that this does not happen until one gets over the odd notion that education is what goes on in school buildings and nowhere else.
SELF-KNOWLEDGE. By midlife we are accomplished fugitives from ourselves. Our lives are filled with diversions; our heads stuffed with knowledge; we are involved with people. Result: we've never taken time to probe our inner selves. We don't want to know ourselves. We don't want to depend upon ourselves. We can't stand to live with ourselves. A better way is to develop a more comfortable view of who you are. It is the true basis of inner strength.
COURAGE TO FAIL. By the time we reach middle age, we carry in our heads a long list of things we'll never try again because we tried once and failed. Mature people learn less because they are willing to risk less. There's no learning without difficulty and fumbling, but if you want to keep on learning, you must keep risking failure.
LOVE. Develop the ability to have mutually fruitful relations with others. Be capable of accepting love and giving it; of depending upon others and of being depended upon. Develop the ability to see life through another's eyes and reach out to others.
MOTIVATION. A self-renewing person is highly motivated. The author points out that motivation isn't a fuel that gets injected into your system (motivation speakers won't do it); it's partly inner energy and partly the result of the social forces in your life. Gardner makes the point that we live in an over-verbalized civilization. Words have become more real than the things they signify and we need to return to the solid earth of direct experience because we are drowning in meaningless word tonnage.
"For those who have accepted the reality of change, the need for endless learning and trying is a way of living, a way of thinking, a way of being awake and ready. "Life isn't a train ride where you choose your destination, pay your fare and settle back for a nap. "It's a cycle ride over uncertain terrain, with you in the driver's seat, constantly correcting your balance and determining the direction of progress. "It's dfficult, sometimes profoundly painful."
For those who are able to achieve self-renewal, Gardner believes they will also develop a more realistic survival view of the world: "Sensible people will understand that there will never be a time when we are not in imminent danger. Cruelty, violence, brutality will be held in leash only by unresting effort--if held in leash at all. "Sloth, indulgence, smugness, torpor begotten of ease and flabbiness begotten of security will always lurk in wait." No society will ever solve the issue of the individual versus the organization. "No society will ever discover how to become civilized without running the risk of becoming overcivilized."
This is a profoundly thoughtful, penetrating piece on what makes you tick. Well worth your time.