13 lessons from one man’s writings

Who do you learn from? And what are they teaching you?

I love words – spoken and written. I enjoy authors who make me think. I collect the quotes that push my buttons or resonate with me. And think I muse of what I’m learning from them. Here are 13 lessons I’ve learnt – and am still learning – from Isaac Asimov quotes.

1) When you’re the smartest person on your street, it’s time to move. Do yourself a favour, have people around who challenge your thinking. Go on, give that disagreeable person a hug.

Quote 1: “Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.”

2) We learn through the feedback of others. Feedback isn’t criticism; it’s an act of love because it’s hard to give. You know it’s feedback when it goes like this, “I notice that… and I’m wondering if…?” Judgement isn’t useful because it starts with “You are…” and that says more about the judge than the judged.

Quote 2: “It is the obvious which is so difficult to see most of the time. People say ‘It’s as plain as the nose on your face.’ But how much of the nose on your face can you see, unless someone holds a mirror up to you?”

3) Give credit where credit is due. Your ideas probably started because someone else had an idea and shared it. Be gracious and thank them for being your teacher.

Quote 3: “There is not a discovery in science, however revolutionary, however sparkling with insight, that does not arise out of what went before. ‘If I have seen further than other men,’ said Isaac Newton, ‘it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.”

4) You can’t change beliefs with facts alone. You’ve got to work on the beliefs themselves… and that takes stamina. Changing beliefs is painful because it means admitting they were wrong. Habit and delusions are much more cosy.

Quote 4: “They won’t listen. Do you know why? Because they have certain fixed notions about the past. Any change would be blasphemy in their eyes, even if it were the truth. They don’t want the truth; they want their traditions.”

5) The mindset of ‘us and them’ groups will be the death of us all. Collaboration and cooperation are the way forward. Enough said.

Quote 5: “The Earth should not be cut up into hundreds of different sections, each inhabited by a self-defined segment of humanity that considers its own welfare and its own ‘national security’ to be paramount above all other consideration.

The Earth faces environmental problems right now that threaten the imminent destruction of civilization and the end of the planet as a livable world. Humanity cannot afford to waste its financial and emotional resources on endless, meaningless quarrels between each group and all others. There must be a sense of globalism in which the world unites to solve the real problems that face ALL groups alike.

Can that be done? The question is equivalent to: Can humanity survive?

There are no nations. There is only humanity. And if we don’t come to understand that right soon, there will be no nations, because there will be no humanity.”

6) I hear most adults only have 24 minutes a week for learning. I know, let’s give them bitesize training or tell them a 15-minute TED Talk will make them all-knowing. Knowledge is great because we’re wild about smart. But smart is only good in the short-term. Wisdom is about the longer-term and it’s not built in a hurry. Where’s the slow learning? The stuff that’s risky, uncomfortable, real, tried and tested, spoken about with the devil’s advocates and pondered at length. There’s no instant gratification in wisdom so it’s been left on the shelf.

Quote 6: “The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.”

7) Stop the black and white thinking. It’s not ‘or’, it’s ‘and’. Navigate the grey. Celebrate the colour explosions. Learn to manage polarities; you’ll make better decisions.

Quote 7: “The basic trouble, you see, is that people think that ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are absolute; that everything that isn’t perfectly and completely right is totally and equally wrong. However, I don’t think that’s so. It seems to me that right and wrong are fuzzy concepts…”

8) Just because you think it’s so doesn’t mean it is. Reality check yourself by being curious and them meet what you find with a wide open mind and heart.

Quote 8: “All the hundreds of millions of people who, in their time, believed the Earth was flat never succeeded in unrounding it by an inch.”

9) Get with the programme. The 4th industrial revolution is here; it isn’t still coming. Do what you need to do for today, but allow some time for imagining and preparing. You live in two worlds: The one you think you know and the one that’s hurtling towards so fast you won’t see it if you don’t slow down, look up from the busyness of all your doing and pay attention.

Quote 9: “It is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be…

This, in turn, means that our statesmen, our businessmen, our everyman must take on a science fictional way of thinking.”

10) Don’t be afraid of the machines. They might be the greatest blessing of our time.

Quote 10: “In a properly automated and educated world, then, machines may prove to be the true humanising influence. It may be that machines will do the work that makes life possible and that human beings will do all the other things that make life pleasant and worthwhile.”

11) End the vicious circle. If you hate them today, theyll hate you tomorrow. You get what you sow.

Quote 11: “It was obvious that bigotry was never a one-way operation, that hatred bred hatred.”

12) Don’t sweat the small stuff, but don’t dismiss it either. Something small can grow big enough to consume you. Sometimes it’s one harmless porn video accidentally stumbled on that creates the violent psychopath.

Quote 12: “Any fool can tell a crisis when it arrives. The real service is to detect it in embryo.”

13) Just deal with it. Stop being a ninny. Avoidance or denial turn the molehill into unpredictable and dangerous Everests. You can run, but you won’t hide forever.

Quote 13: “It has been my philosophy of life that difficulties vanish when faced boldly.”

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