A book on hope - ironically timed
**** Disclaimer for my under 18 readers: Don't let your folks catch you reading this because of the inevitable use of the F word several times.****
Don't let the casual presentation of this topic fool you. The bold cover color, informal font, and the casual tone Manson uses are all purposeful decisions which allow him to present this huge conversation in an approachable manner. You've probably heard of Kant, Kohlberg, Nietzsche, Hume, and several of the other master thinkers presented in this book but have you ever actually sat down and read one of their books? No? Me either! Those are some of the biggest names in thought who penned world-changing theories on the human existence long before their information could be widely accessed but their books are so hard to read because you'd need several degrees in various literature disciplines to even make sense of the introductions. Thank goodness Manson did that excruciating work for us and made the info digestible for those of us with attention spans ruined by the internet age (careful, I'll guilt us both into buying Nietzsche by the end if this post).
The irony of the timing of us reading this book is not lost on me. I chose Every thing is #@%!ed: A book about hope for the reading list long before COVID-19 was known to the western world. I'm not claiming to be some great interpreter of the signs of the universe but couldn't we all use some talk about hope right now with all of the uncertainty going around? Thought so, so I stuck to the plan and opened up Manson's insightful book to see what I could find.
"...something needs to matter because without something mattering, then there's no reason to go on living...Our psyche needs hope to survive the way a fish needs water. Hope is the fuel for our mental engine...the opposite of happiness is not anger or sadness. If you're angry or sad, that means you still give a fuck about something. That means something still matters. That means you still have hope. No, the opposite of happiness is hopelessness" pg. 12. I'll wait while you click the link on the title above and order a copy before I continue..................
So what is hope? Where does hope come from? What does it look like? Can you increase it? Can you influence it in others? What does it feel like? All of those answers vary from person to person; region to region; and situation to situation but all hope shares three foundational building blocks according to Manson: "a sense of control, a belief in the value of something, and a community" pg. 19. Control in the form of perceived self-control over our thoughts and reactions not necessarily in the things around us. Things of value not necessarily being tangible but more so being those things you won't compromise for any reason because they mean so much to you: familia relationships, pursuit of knowledge, treating others with respect, etc. Finally, community meaning those around you that share your values/beliefs. Balance these three building blocks correctly and you've got your hope-house built!
The first building block, control, is a constant intricate dance between the two brains that inhabit your cranium. According to Manson, you have a thinking brain that is rational and logic based and you have your feeling brain that houses the emotions. We all feel "in control" when the two brains are aligned and seeking the same goals. However, "when the Thinking Brain isn't aligned with the Feeling Brain, people feel powerless and the world around them begins to seem hopeless" pg. 44. Reflect on the movie Wall-E for a moment. The tenacious little robot main character started with both of his brains aligned for the good of saving the people on the ship by submitting the plant so they could return to Earth. But then he met resistance at every corner and his feeling brain started to doubt his thinking brain. Wall-E started to show signs of hopelessness until other like-minded characters, his community, stepped up to restore his brain alignment and hope.
The belief in the value of something, building block number two, is where it gets messy because while I value oatmeal cookies WITH raisins you may think raisins are the last thing on Earth with any value at all! If we were in elementary school, this could lead to a winner takes all fist-to-cuffs behind the cafeteria after school with all of our little friends watching clearly divided along the raisin love/hate line depending on their allegiance. This whole episode would be brought to you by the feeling brain using the thinking brain to rationalize the reactions based on Manson's Parallel-Universe Newton's Laws: The Three Laws of Emotions. Chapter Three is a seriously great read that you should spend some time on. It all boils down to the fact that oatmeal cookies, with or without raisins, are more the same then they are different. We all share most of the same values by nature of being human; however "the true tragedy of man [is] that we are doomed to perpetual conflict over the slight [differences]" pg. 72 in everything from our cookies to our politics.
The final hope foundation stone is community. Manson uses the example of creating your own religion in the book to illustrate the process, and importance, of establishing a community of like-minded people hoping in the same things based on the same values. Excellent writing for sure but maybe a bit extreme so I figured I'd bring it to a slightly more relatable place: companies and corporations. I give a pretty awesome speech on Values, Beliefs, and Teamwork (shameless plug to hire me as a key note speaker, email me here). Founders of successful companies/corporations take great care in identifying baseline corporation values for all members of the team to follow in order to have a sense of community and shared beliefs. These values often include honesty, respect, integrity, trust and other such broadly applicable words that can encompass everyone from mailroom workers to c-suite members to the customers that ultimately choose one company over another.
Until reading this book I hadn't tied my thoughts and speech into hope but that really is the goal of establishing values in a company isn't it? The company founders establish the shared values to feed the vision statement (the big, fantastical dream) which the company is hoping to create through it's product/services. Then the company moto, rituals, marketing slogans, commercials, everything around it are designed to align the two brains of all involved around the same community values to hope for the same better future. "In order to feel hope, we need to feel there's a better future out there (values); we need to feel as though we are capable of getting to that better future (self-control); and we need to find other people who share our values and support our efforts (community)" pg. 82.
Thus hope is born of the three building blocks no matter if we are talking cartoon robots, cookies, or fortune 500 companies. But it can't be as simple as 1, 2, 3 can it? We can already see how our human nature to divide over the tiniest of ingredients could bring this whole hope train to a grinding halt. Keep reading my friends! If you liked that discussion on part one of Every thing is #@%!ed, you'll definitely enjoy the rest of the book and the second part of my post coming on April 24th. Until then, leave me your insights below, via email, on my socials, or drop me a line. Looking forward to digging deeper into it with you!