Inspiration from Hermann Hesse, Ingmar Bergman, Buckminster Fuller, and More

Once a month (or so), I share a dozen things that have inspired me to greater personal, professional, and financial success in my life. I hope they bring similar success to your life.

1. Hermann Hesse on knowledge and wisdom

Wisdom is not communicable. The wisdom which a wise man tries to communicate always sounds foolish… Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom.” – Hermann Hesse

This is something I bump up against time and time again when writing articles on The Simple Dollar.

I often find that there are ideas and conclusions that I have inside of me that make perfect sense within the context of the varied things I have done and the books I have read, but when I try to write them down in a simple and short way, they either sound like nonsense or they sound like nothing.

I think of those things as being the “wisdom” that Hesse describes here.

On the other hand, many of the articles I end up writing don’t deal so much with the life conclusions I have drawn, but instead on the path I took to get there. What are the specific things that I’ve done that have worked for me and pushed me forward?

I think of those things as being the “knowledge” that Hesse describes.

The wisdom that people collect often requires the life experiences and learning of that person in order to really make sense. The best thing anyone can do for anyone else is aid them on their path to wisdom, because trying to give wisdom directly is basically useless.

2. Richard Wilkinson on how economic inequality harms societies

From the description:

We feel instinctively that societies with huge income gaps are somehow going wrong. Richard Wilkinson charts the hard data on economic inequality, and shows what gets worse when rich and poor are too far apart: real effects on health, lifespan, even such basic values as trust.

I am absolutely in favor of people reaping the rewards of their savings and hard work. That’s one of the guiding ideas behind The Simple Dollar, that if you work hard and are smart about your earnings, you can do great things with it and live a powerful life.

At the same time, I’d have to be blind not to see that there is a gigantic gap between the wealthy and the poor.

For me, the problem isn’t so much with the adults that are making active choices about their own lives, but with the children. Children don’t choose to be born in a broken home or in a home of privilege. They don’t choose whether they get parents that read bedtime stories to them every night or parents that drink themselves into a stupor every night. They don’t choose whether to be born into a family that will care about the nutritional value of every meal or into a family where no one even cares if supper is on the table.

By the time the children are old enough to step away from their families, the die is mostly cast for their life and the accumulated advantages of simply being born into a family that cares is enormous.

The older I get, the more this troubles me. I don’t know what the solution to the problem is, but I do know this: every moment we waste in calling each other names and not even listening to each other’s solutions is a moment where some kid doesn’t eat, where some kid doesn’t get decent medical care, where some kid doesn’t have someone read them a story.

The fact that this problem wasn’t addressed 20 or 30 years ago is affecting my life in a negative way right now. Because we didn’t deal with it, society is lacking some of the great minds and leaders and workers we may have had.

The fact that we aren’t dealing with it right now will affect my life in a negative way down the road. Because we’re not dealing with it, society will be lacking some of the great minds and leaders and workers we may have had.

I’m a big believer in planting mustard seeds for the future. To me, children are perhaps the most important mustard seed we have outside of our immediate life. The seeds we plant now in the children in our community, our state, and our society as a whole are what will be the bedrock of our society in 20 or 30 years, when we’re older and we need that bedrock more than ever.

Rather than being angry that someone is suggesting a solution you don’t like to ensure that children are fed, safe, and educated, step back for a moment and realize that he or she is trying to solve a real problem and that’s a great thing. Rather than getting angry and calling them a name because you don’t like the solution, pat them on the back because they’re thinking about the problem.

3. Nikola Tesla on the future

“The scientific man does not aim at an immediate result. He does not expect that his advanced ideas will be readily taken up. His work is like that of a planter — for the future. His duty is to lay the foundation of those who are to come and point the way.” – Nikola Tesla

You can never build anything great solely by living for today. The path to achieving something worth remembering is to look at your actions and what they imply for your life 10 or 20 years from now.

The more actions you take each and every day that have a positive impact 10 or 20 years from now, the better your life will become over time.

The life you want doesn’t happen immediately, no matter what you do. It happens down the road, and it requires you to lay a foundation now, to plant seeds now. The best thing you can do today is always to lay a foundation for the days down the road.

4. Jason Vieaux And Yolanda Kondonassis: NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert

From the description:

We rarely invite Tiny Desk alumni back to the confines of Bob Boilen’s work space, but we couldn’t resist this time. Harpist Yolanda Kondonassis and Grammy-winning guitarist Jason Vieaux have both given solo Tiny Desk performances. Since then they’ve paired up for concerts and a new album of works composed especially for their combination of instruments.

Although the harp and guitar are both instruments you pluck and strum, they seem to come from different corners of the classical world. The guitar conjures up the legacy of zesty Spanish music while the harp must contend with the cliché of its angelic role in the orchestra. But when Kondonassis and Vieaux are together, the two instruments seem to merge into a singularly evocative voice. Kondonassis joked that they could call it a “guitarp” until someone quickly Googled and told us there actually is such a contraption.

Music for harp and guitar isn’t easy to come by, so Kondonassis and Vieaux have been busy commissioning works like the opening “Elysian,” part of a larger suite written for the duo by Gary Schocker.

Anything that sounds even vaguely non-Western is a good fit for the duo because most cultures enjoy their own versions of the harp and guitar. Alan Hovhaness, an American composer with a global outlook, weaved Asian ideas into his Sonata for Harp and Guitar, subtitled “Spirit of Trees.” And the duo ends by beating out the interlocking rhythms of the African candombe, which Argentine composer Máximo Diego Pujol placed in his Suite mágica.

I listened to this in a loop for several hours the other day. The music just flows along and sweeps me into a contemplative mood that’s just perfect for writing (at least for me).

The thing that got me is that, at many points, the guitar and harp just merged together. I could not tell you for sure which of the two instruments was playing at many points because they just melted together in an amazing way.

Listen, especially as a background music when you’re doing something else like doing the dishes or writing an article. You’ll be glad you did.

5. Buckminster Fuller on information, communication, and people

“I have to say, I think that we are in some kind of final examination as to whether human beings now, with this capability to acquire information and to communicate, whether we’re really qualified to take on the responsibility we’re designed to be entrusted with. And this is not a matter of an examination of the types of governments, nothing to do with politics, nothing to do with economic systems. It has to do with the individual. Does the individual have the courage to really go along with the truth?” – Buckminster Fuller

The Internet has such incredible positive potential for humankind. It can enable all of us to find information at an instant’s notice, filling our minds and our curiosities with facts and details about the world.

Yet, so often, the opposite happens. Even more than accurate information, the Internet is loaded with page after page of people spreading dishonest information and thoughts and ideas. They write things with agendas behind them, attempting to skew and carefully select facts and charge the few remaining ones with high emotional energy in order to sway people rather than inform them.

The Internet is full of anonymous commenters who seek nothing more than to spread negativity and bile. It’s full of people on social media spreading half-baked opinions and pretending that those opinions are fact, and then yelling at and de-friending anyone who dares to question those ideas.

The only person that can make it better is me. And you. We have to have the courage to realize that our deepest convictions might not be the right ones. We have to have the courage to admit that sometimes we’re wrong. We have to be willing to listen to facts that don’t line up with what we already believe – and sometimes even change what we believe. We have to respect that others aren’t just going to fall in lockstep with what we think – and that doesn’t make them “bad” or “evil.”

Otherwise, we are lost.

6. Streaks

I’m going to be honest with you. I was in the process of learning how to write iOS apps for the last several months because I had an idea of an app in my head. This is almost exactly that app, and I’ve been using it almost nonstop for weeks.

The idea behind Streaks is that you define up to six simple tasks that you want to do each day. For me right now, it’s “study philosophy for an hour,” “do a set of planks,” “read for an hour (ideally with kids),” “walk a mile,” and “floss” – I don’t have a sixth right now.

Each day, you just fire up the app and check off the ones you’ve done. For each one, it keeps track of your “streak” – how many days in a row that you’ve done it.

This is basically my “wall calendar” in a simpler app form. What I’ve found over the years by doing this in analog form is that the longer the streak gets, the stronger my urge to make sure I do this thing happens to be. It’s a great motivator.

There’s another element, too – I try to pick tasks that are pretty easy for me to complete. The only task there that I have to stretch to complete much at all is the hour of study. In truth, most of the time when I meet those tasks, I tend to do a lot more than that, as the task just serves as a starting point.

When I’ve walked a mile, for instance, I might be a mile from the house, so I keep going. When I’ve read for an hour, I might be in the middle of a chapter, so I keep going. You get the idea.

This app has been wonderful for me over the past month or so. Highly recommended.

7. Walt Whitman – A Clear Midnight

This is thy hour O Soul, thy free flight into the wordless,
Away from books, away from art, the day erased, the lesson done,
Thee fully forth emerging, silent, gazing, pondering the themes thou lovest best.
Night, sleep, death and the stars.

At the end of a day of work, thought, love, joy, and sadness, where does my heart lie?

It lies at home with my family, with a quiet moment to think as I drift off to sleep, my wife warm next to me, my children in slumber down the hallway.

There is no better ingredient for a restful sleep.

8. Arthur C. Clarke on humanity, alone or not

“Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.” ― Arthur C. Clarke

My children are curious little creatures and they ask a lot of questions, some of them quite tough. Why are we here? Who made everything?

The other night, after some stargazing, my daughter asked me whether there were places like Earth out there among the stars. I told her that I thought that there was.

She’s watched enough children’s movies with aliens in them to ask the next questions. Are there really aliens out there on those places like Earth? I told her I didn’t know, but that I thought so.

Then I asked her whether she would feel happier if there were aliens or if there weren’t any. She didn’t say anything for a long time, but I know she heard me because she reached over and held my hand after a moment.

It’s one of those questions where neither answer particularly makes you feel safe.

9. The Dam Keeper

From Wikipedia:

The Dam Keeper is a 2014 American animated short film directed by former Pixar art directors Robert Kondo and Daisuke Tsutsumi. It tells the story of Pig, an introverted youth who lives in a windmill and keeps a dark fog from engulfing his town. Although socially rejected by his peers, he is befriended by the artistic Fox.

I was blown away by this short animated film, much like I’ve been blown away by some of the recent ones in front of Disney and Pixar films (like Paper).

I watched this just last week with my seven year old standing next to me and my five year old on my lap. We watched it. They wanted to watch it again. Then again.

Later, my nine year old came upstairs and asked me what the name of the “pig movie” was. He found it on YouTube and the three of them watched it another few times.

It’s just mesmerizing and well-executed, the type of thing that made me wish I had the artistic skills to pull such a thing together.

10. Otto von Bismarck on the horror of war

“Anyone who has ever looked into the glazed eyes of a soldier dying on the battlefield will think hard before starting a war.” – Otto von Bismarck

Whenever we commit anyone to a battlefield, whether the cause is great or not, we are paying a heavy price, one that many of us overlook. As a nation, we are frightfully willing to flip that switch of “military action” to take on anything we see that we don’t like in the world.

The end result? More death.

I often wonder how many Mozarts and Einsteins we’ve blown up with unintended bombs, how many young Beethovens and Newtons we’ve left without parents so that their flame is snuffed out.

How many fathers and mothers have died fighting for a cause they were conscripted for, leaving a parentless child behind?

How many wars are really worth that? Not nearly as many has have been fought.

11. Peering through the grass

Peering Through The Long Grass

One of my favorite things to do with my children is to wander in open fields with them, wherever we can find them. We always find interesting things as we explore, whether it’s a bone from a long-dead animal, some unusual butterflies, a strange plant, or something else.

I often find myself wondering what this all looks like from their angle, so I’ll often kneel down in the grass, bringing my eye to their level and peering at the world through simple breaks in the tall grass.

Everything looks so different.

I get so used to how the world looks from my own eyes that sometimes it is really powerful to look at the world from the angle at which others see it.

Many thanks to A Guy Taking Pictures for this image.

12. Ingmar Bergman on working together

“Regardless of whether I believe or not, whether I am a Christian or not, I would play my part in the collective building of the cathedral.” – Ingmar Bergman

The greatest things in the world aren’t always in lockstep with what we believe.

The greatest things in the world don’t have to be twisted to our own specific desires and wants.

The greatest things in the world go far beyond one individual person, and require each of those persons to contribute to something that doesn’t perfectly match their own desires.

What great things are we building?

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