Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘history’

19 JUNE, 2013

Aung San Suu Kyi on Freedom from Fear

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“Fearlessness may be a gift, but perhaps most precious is [the] courage that comes from cultivating the habit of refusing to let fear dictate one’s actions.”

Reconstructionist Aung San Suu Kyi, born on June 19, 1945, is one of modern history’s greatest champions of peace, following in the footsteps of Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolent resistance. In her 1991 essay “Freedom from Fear,” found in the altogether essential anthology Freedom from Fear: And Other Writings (public library), Suu echoes fellow reconstructionist Susan Sontag’s timeless words on courage and resistance as she explores the fundamental relationship between fear, courage, and human flourishing:

It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.

[…]

Fearlessness may be a gift, but perhaps most precious is the courage acquired through endeavor, courage that comes from cultivating the habit of refusing to let fear dictate one’s actions, courage that could be described as ‘grace under pressure’ — grace which is renewed repeatedly in the face of harsh, unremitting pressure.

Within a system which denies the existence of basic human rights, fear tends to be the order of the day. Fear of imprisonment, fear of torture, fear of death, fear of losing friends, family, property or means of livelihood, fear of poverty, fear of isolation, fear of failure. A most insidious form of fear is that which masquerades as common sense or even wisdom, condemning as foolish, reckless, insignificant or futile the small, daily acts of courage which help to preserve man’s self-respect and inherent human dignity. It is not easy for a people conditioned by fear under the iron rule of the principle that might is right to free themselves from the enervating miasma of fear. Yet even under the most crushing state machinery courage rises up again and again, for fear is not the natural state of civilized man.

Touching on some of the deepest themes Viktor Frankl explored in his 1946 meditation on humanity’s search for meaning, Suu examines the heart of what makes us human:

The wellspring of courage and endurance in the face of unbridled power is generally a firm belief in the sanctity of ethical principles combined with a historical sense that despite all setbacks the condition of man is set on an ultimate course for both spiritual and material advancement. It is his capacity for self-improvement and self-redemption which most distinguishes man from the mere brute. At the root of human responsibility is the concept of perfection, the urge to achieve it, the intelligence to find a path towards it, and the will to follow that path if not to the end at least the distance needed to rise above individual limitations and environmental impediments. It is man’s vision of a world fit for rational, civilized humanity which leads him to dare and to suffer to build societies free from want and fear. Concepts such as truth, justice and compassion cannot be dismissed as trite when these are often the only bulwarks which stand against ruthless power.

A few months after this title essay in Freedom from Fear was published, Suu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Portrait by Lisa Congdon for The Reconstructionists

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14 JUNE, 2013

The Secret to Learning Anything: Albert Einstein’s Advice to His Son

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“That is the way to learn the most, that when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes.”

With Father’s Day around the corner, here comes a fine addition to history’s greatest letters of fatherly advice from none other than Albert Einstein — brilliant physicist, proponent of peace, debater of science and spirituality, champion of kindness — who was no stranger to dispensing epistolary empowerment to young minds.

In 1915, aged thirty-six, Einstein was living in wartorn Berlin, while his estranged wife, Mileva, and their two sons, Hans Albert Einstein and Eduard “Tete” Einstein, lived in comparatively safe Vienna. On November 4 of that year, having just completed the two-page masterpiece that would catapult him into international celebrity and historical glory, his theory of general relativity, Einstein sent 11-year-old Hans Albert the following letter, found in Posterity: Letters of Great Americans to Their Children (public library) — the same wonderful anthology that gave us some of history’s greatest motherly advice, Benjamin Rush’s wisdom on travel and life, and Sherwood Anderson’s counsel on the creative life. Einstein, who takes palpable pride in his intellectual accomplishments, speaks to the rhythms of creative absorption as the fuel for the internal engine of learning:

My dear Albert,

Yesterday I received your dear letter and was very happy with it. I was already afraid you wouldn’t write to me at all any more. You told me when I was in Zurich, that it is awkward for you when I come to Zurich. Therefore I think it is better if we get together in a different place, where nobody will interfere with our comfort. I will in any case urge that each year we spend a whole month together, so that you see that you have a father who is fond of you and who loves you. You can also learn many good and beautiful things from me, something another cannot as easily offer you. What I have achieved through such a lot of strenuous work shall not only be there for strangers but especially for my own boys. These days I have completed one of the most beautiful works of my life, when you are bigger, I will tell you about it.

I am very pleased that you find joy with the piano. This and carpentry are in my opinion for your age the best pursuits, better even than school. Because those are things which fit a young person such as you very well. Mainly play the things on the piano which please you, even if the teacher does not assign those. That is the way to learn the most, that when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes. I am sometimes so wrapped up in my work that I forget about the noon meal. . . .

Be with Tete kissed by your

Papa.

Regards to Mama.

.

Complement with more timeless advice from famous dads, including Ted Hughes, Charles Dickens, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sherwood Anderson, John Steinbeck, and much more wisdom found in Posterity.

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14 JUNE, 2013

The Rap Guide to Evolution: Baba Brinkman’s Homage to Darwin

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Dropping rhymes on the natural selection of reason.

The life of Charles Darwin has been the subject of ample creative adaptations — from a graphic novel biography to a collaborative album to a series of biographical poems by his great-grand-daughter.

Now comes The Rap Guide to Evolution by the inimitable Baba Brinkman — a Darwinian rap-teaser for Mark Pallen’s book The Rough Guide to Evolution (public library) that does for science-lovers what Dan Bull’s Lennononandonandon did for Beatlemaniacs and The Elements of Style Rap did for literary nerds:

[Darwin], as far as anyone knows, was the first
To recognize the underlying pattern behind the pageant
Affectionately known as “life on this planet”
He was the first to understand it
The first to translate his amazement
At the wonder of life, into a way to explain it
So this is a celebration of Darwin’s greatness
In the form of a rap — some would say “a debasement”
I would say “be patient”, just think of this as
A manifestation of the evolutionary equation
A recapitulation of life, a re-enactment
So, how do you go from amoebas to rappers?

Complement with Darwin’s daily routine and his timelessly delightful list of the pros and cons of marriage.

Open Culture

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