Just Finished Reading: The Wonder Box – Curious Histories of How to Live by Roman Krznaric (FP: 2011)
It’s a perennial question normally answered (in many formats) by Philosophy – How Should I Live my Life? The author of this interesting volume has other ideas: Why not look for answers, or at least possible answers in the more concrete examples of historical figures and societies from other non-Western cultures? There is also a challenge and a deeper question embedded in this approach – Why do we live the way we do today? Are there valid, practical alternatives to what we consider normal behaviour in our advanced western capitalist societies? Because clearly things have not always been this way. There was a time before Facebook (weird I know) and even a time before the Internet (can you imagine that?). There was a time before the 24 hour culture when you could be out of contact for hours, or days or even for longer periods. Did people way back then – say the 1970’s – have to live at a much slower pace or did they just want to? Could we do that today through choice?
Why stop there of course. Why not examine every part of our lives and think about why we do the things we do. Are we actually making reasoned choices about or lives or are we, like fish, simply oblivious to the social and cultural waters we swim in? Do we accept things the way they are simply because (we think) that they have always been done this way? Well, a little bit of historical knowledge would address that particular myth or misunderstanding. The past is full of examples of how we have done things differently – from working patterns to relationships, from politics to family structure, from our relationship with money to the dominance of a single sense (sight these days), from changes in belief to thoughts on creativity and our relationship with death and the process of ending our lives with dignity and, sometimes, style. All of these things have been different in the past and are available to learn from. There are individuals: heroes, rebels, teachers, doctors and even politicians who can teach us – by their concrete example – of other modes of being from the sacrifice of people like Albert Schweitzer to the sheer grit and determination of Helen Keller. There are hundreds upon hundreds of historical role models we can look up to and emulate for their persistence in the face of hardship, for their commitment to their fellow human beings, for their passions and dedication, for their grit and, often, bloody-mindedness to get things done and make things better. This is not the sometimes unrealistic musings of philosophers long dead but the real-life examples of real people (sometimes admittedly long dead too).
This was an interesting twist on the whole ‘how we should live’ question. Rather than theory this is practice from individuals who have been there, done that, and sometimes lived to tell their tale. Across the world there are countless examples of how people have lived their lives in ways that can help you examine yours and just maybe make a few changes that will improve things. More particularly this book might start you thinking about why you live the way you do and hold the beliefs that you believe (or even know) to be true. Are they true? If so why have other people held other equally strong beliefs? Is it just a matter of them being wrong or because they lived in a very different worlds with different cultures and different zeitgeists? (I do love that word – the German’s are, after all, such a comforting people). This book asks you to dig into the past lives of others across the globe and use their lives as lenses to see our own culture afresh and then question how and why we live our own lives. It’s an interesting experiment once you start down that road. Who knows where it might lead…… Recommended. Oh, it has a really good bibliography too!