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Weekly 3: Turning crisis into opportunity

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Idea Journal Weekly 3

April 11 · Issue #186 · View online

We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.


Summary: A crisis represents danger, but it also represents a chance to focus on what matters most and change for the better. This issue explores a few ideas to help you turn a crisis into an opportunity.
(~4 min read)

#1. An opportunity to change
Authors Lauren McCann and Gabriel Weinberg write in their book Super Thinking that when you see something change in the world around you, ask what new opportunities might open up as a result.
Their technique is to ask: “Now what?”
Sweeping changes can happen in the wake of a crisis – whether personal, political, organizational, or technological.
McCann and Weinberg reference the politician Rahm Emanual’s perspective: “You never want to let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that [is] it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.“
#2. An opportunity to time travel
Author and researcher Robert Greene writes in his book The Laws of Human Nature that “wisdom tends to come to us when it’s too late.”
We often lack perspective in the present. As time passes, we gain more information and see more of the truth: “what was invisible to us in the present now becomes visible in retrospect.”
But as Greene points out, our relationship with time is more malleable than we think. We can expand our view of the present moment by adopting what he calls the “farsighted perspective,” using the following two steps: 
1. When we’re faced with a challenge, we train ourselves to detach from the heat of the moment. We work to calm down our fear, and get some distance. 
2. Next, we deepen and widen our perspective. We force ourselves to look at the overall context of the challenge, not just what immediately grabs our attention. We then imagine how the challenge might play out over time, and the negative consequences of the strategies we’re considering. We remember our long-term goals, and use them to inform our priorities in the present.
You can visualize this process by imagining the following scenario: at the base of a mountain, in a thick forest, we can’t easily map out our surroundings. We can only see what’s before our eyes. 
As we move up the side of the mountain, we can see more of the surroundings and how they relate to the broader landscape. The higher we go, the more we realize that what we thought further down was actually distorted.
At the top of the mountain, we finally have a panoramic view and a clear understanding of the landscape.
#3. An opportunity to choose your reaction
Author Rolf Dobelli writes in his book The Art of the Good Life that as the world becomes more complex and interconnected, the greater the likelihood of new and unexpected negative events.
For Dobelli, this means it’s increasingly important to invest in your “mental fortress” – the set of attitudes that emotionally prepares you for loss. 
Whatever happens, your thoughts, and how you interpret loss and setbacks, can never be taken from you. Your mental fortress is “a piece of freedom that can never be assailed.”
As Dobelli notes, the ancient practical philosophy of Stoicism can serve as a guide for building your mental fortress. 
He tells the story of the Stoic philosopher Boethius to illuminate Stoicism’s core lessons. 
Boethius was a successful intellectual and senator who occupied high offices in 6th century Rome. His passion was translating books from Greek to Latin. But one day, he was accused of supporting a conspiracy against the king, and was sentenced to death. 
He lost everything: his money, his houses, his library, and his freedom. 
Boethius wrote his last book, The Consolation of Philosophy, in jail while waiting to be executed. 
The book is a conversation between Boethius himself and Lady Philosophy. She shares the following three lessons to help him cope with his losses and upcoming execution.
1. Accept the existence of fate. Those who experience highs will also experience lows. Don’t be too concerned with whether you’re ascending or descending because it can all be turned on its head.
2. Everything you own, value, and love is ephemeral: your health, your partner, your children, your friends, your house, your money. The best perspective to have is that these things are on loan to you, and can be taken away at any time: “By death, if nothing else.”
3. Remember that all sweet things are tinged with bitterness: “Whining is misplaced.”
Dobelli points to Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl as a more modern example of someone who embodied the Stoic philosophy and built a secure mental fortress.
Here’s a passage from Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning:
“We who lived through concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Quote of the week
“Great occasions do not make heroes or cowards; they simply unveil them to the eyes of men. Silently and perceptibly, as we wake or sleep, we grow strong or weak; and last some crisis shows what we have become. ”
- Attributed to theologian Brooke Foss Westcott
Idea Journal
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