Tuesday, May 12, 2015

McRaven & Russell on Fear, Hope and Beginning of Wisdom

by Bill Doughty

Retired Adm. William McRaven, former commander of the United States Special Forces Command, published a list of recommended books in 2013, the year before he retired. The list included some familiar Navy Reads favorites: "Blink" by Malcolm Gladwell, "The World is Flat 3.0" by Thomas Friedman, "Made to Stick" by Chip and Dan Heath, and "Eleven Rings" by NBA Coach Phil Jackson.

McRaven's book and author recommendations were presented to special operations warriors as a way to "understand contemporary issues, develop a strong appreciation of our history and heritage, and stimulate creative thinking to confront complex challenges." The complete list was published on "War on the Rocks."

When he promulgated his list McRaven said he valued critical thinking and analysis, and he expected his SEALS and other warfighters to confront challenges head-on. He suggested the same approach to new college graduates.

McRaven was a guest on this past Sunday's This Week show on ABC TV where he discussed his civilian job or "new mission" as Chancellor of the University of Texas system. Guest anchor Martha Raddatz played clips from his viral world-famous commencement address from last year at the UT with advice about what to do if you want to change the world. McRaven explained what he'd learned from SEAL training, starting with "make your bed."

McRaven challenged graduates, just as he challenged his warrior readers, to face their fears and embrace hope.

"If I have learned anything in my time traveling the world, it is the power of hope. The power of one person — Washington, Lincoln, King, Mandela and even a young girl from Pakistan, Malala — one person can change the world by giving people hope," he said to University of Texas graduates.

Nearly 100 years ago, in 1917, the year the United States entered World War I, philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote this about the subjects of fear and hope in an essay, "Education":
"No institution inspired by fear can further life. Hope, not fear, is the creative principle in human affairs. All that has made man great has sprung from the attempt to secure what is good, not from the struggle to avert what was thought evil. It is because modern education is so seldom inspired by a great hope that it so seldom achieves a great result. The wish to preserve the past rather than the hope of creating the future dominates the minds of those who control the teaching of the young. Education should not aim at a passive awareness of dead facts, but at an activity directed towards the world that our efforts are to create. It should be inspired, not by a regretful hankering after the extinct beauties of Greece and the Renaissance, but by a shining vision of the society that is to be, of the triumphs that thought will achieve in the time to come, and of the ever-widening horizon of man's survey over the universe. Those who are taught in this spirit will be filled with life and hope and joy, able to bear their part in bringing to mankind a future less somber than the past, with faith in the glory that human effort can create."
Russell, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950 and author of "A History of Western Philosophy," is sometimes quoted in commencement ceremonies, too.

The excerpt above from "Education" was published in an anthology of nonfiction, fiction and poetry titled "The World's Best," edited by Whit Burnett (The Dial Press, New York, 1950).

Russell himself introduced the piece, "because reverence for human individuality and mental initiative are, in my opinion, of the utmost importance, and are increasingly threatened ..."

Russell was a pacifist who believed that a strategy of reason and cooperation was better than tactics of killing and conflict in dealing with complex challenges. An opponent to the First World War, he later came to support Britain in war against Germany in World War II when he saw there was no reasoning with Adolf Hitler.

Among Russell's famous quotes are: "War does not determine who is right – only who is left" and "To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom..."

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