How to Change the World: The School of Life

John-Paul Flintoff

Finished Reading:
Jan 26, 2019

Edition Publisher:

Edition Release:
May 12, 2012

Purchase Search via DuckDuckGo:
ISBN 9781447202325

Highlights & Annotations

“If we forbid ourselves to talk negatively about something, we block the awareness of grievances that need an airing as a prelude to dealing with them” (24)

  • One must confront and acknowledge that there is an issue

“The search for meaning must always come before the pursuit of happiness” (25)

“Somebody has to go first, or that intentional change won’t happen. But why should it be us? One reason we hold back from doing what needs to be done is that nobody else seems bothered about it. This comes down to something fundamental about human beings: we’re social animals and we learn the right way to behave by observing others.

And yet every single breakthrough occurred because somebody decided to do something new. That first person’s actions ‘gave permissions’ to others – if only to do what they already wanted to do.” (64)

“They felt the fear and did it anyways” (70)

“Freedom is, by definition, people realizing that they are their own leaders” (71)

“We will be most effective if we do what comes naturally to us” (76)

“But the Buddhist ideal of right livelihood extends beyond our own job, because we can’t be living by our real values while we depend on others to carry out jobs that distort those same values.” (85)

  • It requires being uncomfortable and unlearning bad habits

“...right livelihood is not just a personal matter, but a form of collective responsibility. We are partly responsible for the way others support themselves, because in our daily lives we buy products and services from them or support them through our taxes.” (85)

“...nobody, in the real world, can have entirely right livelihood. Once we recognize that, we acquire the humility to stop judging others and ourselves – and get on with our good work.” (85)

“Are you opposed to the present division of resources between the wealthy nations and the poor ones? If you are, and you live in one of the wealthy nations, what are you doing about it? How much of your own surplus income are you giving to one of the many organizations that are helping the poorest of the poor?” (86)

“Imaginary hindsight” (94)

“’s possible to extend your support network into unexpected places….At every moment, we choose to see others either as people like ourselves, or as objects in our own life’s drama. They either count like we do, or they don’t.” (97)

“But not all people’s needs are material. Sometimes what is really needed is help of a more personal kind. Sometimes what is needed is love.” (101)

“It may not be in our power to build new schools, but it is definitely always an option to give our care, attention and love.” (106)

“...remarkable changes that have come about when two camps learn to see each other as legitimate human agents who hold positions which, while divergent from their own, are not intrinsically evil or worthy of being trampled upon.” (107)

“No conflict can ever be solved so long as all parties are convinced they are right. A solution is only possible when at least one begins to consider how he or she might be wrong. And the deepest way in which we tend to be right or wrong is not in the intellectual positions we adopt, but the attitude we have towards the other person. If we don’t respect them as a person with real interests and vulnerabilities of their own, we will get nowhere.” (111)

“Whatever the context, people usually have the same basic interests...but in a different order of priority.” (114)

“It’s not a doctrine that you decide either to agree with or not. It’s a method, and the only way to test it is to put it into practice.” Re: compassion and the golden rule (115)

“But the great danger with altruism generated in the seclusion of one’s own thoughts is that it might become a subtle means of evading actual interpersonal responsibility, and justify a life of peaceful, uninvolved isolation from others.” (116)

“ is petty everyday resentments that, if they’re left unchecked, grow into cold hatred, then violence….large-scale violence always grows out of private resentments.” (117)

“...we wound each other up – inviting the very behaviours we hated in each other. (This is why conflict-resolution specialists speak of enemies as being in collusion, rather than merely in conflict.)” (117)

“...the things we tend to think of as historically significant...aren’t really any more important than the small things we can all do, every day.” (119) 

“The fact is that anything we might do might be characterized as unhelpful, if only by people far away from ourselves, in time or space, who must deal with consequences that are hidden from us.” (124)

“If we can foresee problems likely to be caused by our actions, we should of course draw back and think again, but if we sincerely can’t imagine what those problems may be, we should humbly accept that they might arise, hope that somebody else will think of a way to deal with them when the time comes, and get on with doing whatever needs to be done now. 

And if we are to do anything, we need first to accept that we can’t fix everything….Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.” (124)

“When we wish for the landscape to change in this way we’re using ‘static’ thinking: imagining our goals as, essentially, finished paintings, beautifully framed, that we hope one day to hang on our wall. But the trouble is that nobody is doing any painting.

It helps to use ‘process’ thinking instead.” (126)