“Problems cannot be solved with the same mindset that created them.” (Albert Einstein)

“I really believe that if the political leaders of the world could see their planet from a distance of...100,000 miles, their outlook would be fundamentally changed. That all-important border would be invisible, that noisy argument suddenly silenced. The tiny globe would continue to turn, serenely ignoring its subdivision, presenting a united facade that would cry out for unified treatment.” (Michael Collins, Apollo 11 Astronaut)

Astronauts tell us how deeply meaningful it is for them to see Earth from Space. They tell us that there are no borders, and that the atmosphere that shields us from deadly radiation and the vacuum of space is precariously thin, time is not experienced the same way as on Earth. There is awe witnessing Earth against the backdrop of the vast cosmos. And when looking down on Earth they experience a sense of oneness of all life.

Crucially, they experience all of this rather than just knowing it intellectually – and it changes them, their outlook and what they do back on Earth.

The philosopher Frank White calls the experience the ‘Overview Effect’. After interviewing dozens of astronauts and writing a book on the topic, he concedes that the experience is ‘really hard to convey […] because all you have is words’.

And so he and others are exploring different ways to convey this experience:

I ask myself: What if we really sent politicians to the moon or space, as actual space tourists or through VR? How would their outlook change? Once back on Earth, what impact would it have on their policies? How would it affect the way they do politics?

If Michael Collins is right, and political leaders look beyond divisions and tackle those global challenges that ‘cry out for unified treatment’, then that idea is worth pursuing further.

What if…

  • emerging political leaders went through that experience before taking up political office, either as part of the curricula of their political parties or as an official program of the public institution they are joining?

  • political officials regularly went through that experience, perhaps as part of a next conference, summit, retreat – why not skip a fancy dinner or a panel discussion on ‘global responsibility’ for an experience of the Overview Effect? Or negotiate climate action plans while orbiting Earth in Virtual Reality?

  • there was a cross-partisan community of space travellers (real or virtual) who work together on global issues, injecting a fresh perspective?

It’s also worth investing in that as society. While billionaire-sponsored projects are laudable and we can only hope that early space tourists – most of whom will be wealthy – will use their wealth for the global good, enabling our political representatives to take a new, fresh perspective on the challenges facing us is not their job. It's the job of democratic societies.

I find these three books to be a constant source of empowerment. More than that, they can profoundly change the way we approach life.

1. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl recounts his experience of surviving Nazi death camps and how the lessons from his theory, logotherapy, helped him find meaning and cope with it:

  • There is a gap between what happens and how we respond to it. In that gap is the power to decide what we will do and who we will be. When we are aware of the gap, we stop reacting and start responding

  • Life does not have a meaning of its own, but we create that meaning

  • Knowing one’s ‘why’ helps overcome any ‘how’

  • Success & happiness are side-effects of contributing to a greater cause

  • Every human being unites both the potential for ‘good’ & ‘evil’ inside of themselves. ’Good’ and ‘evil’ are not properties of people, they are potentials either acted upon or not. And they are not markers differentiating people – or groups of people – from each other; rather, they are potentialities in each of us

“Don't aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one's personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one's surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run—in the long-run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it” (Viktor E. Frankl)

2. Into the Magic Shop by James R. Doty

The story of how a small boy from a dire background was taught how to focus his mind and connect with his heart through exercises in mindfulness and compassion, became a successful neurosurgeon, only to feel isolated and unhappy, realizing he had put his mind & intellect over everything else:

  • Practicing mindfulness consistently can deeply shape how we view the world and how we respond to it. It can increase our focus, discipline, and sense of personal power. It helps us be a bit more conscious about what we do and how we think

  • Practicing mindfulness without compassion (mind without heart) means being efficient but perhaps not effective: doing things very good, but perhaps not doing the right things. Practicing compassion, being kind to oneself and others in word and deed, connects oneself to the heart and thereby to others

“You need to understand that what you think you want isn’t always what’s best for you and others. You need to open your heart to learn what you want before you use this magic, otherwise if you don’t really know what you want and you get what you think you want, you’re going to end up getting what you don’t want.” (James R. Doty)

3. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Apart from the valuable life lessons he shares (with himself - he never intended his reflections to be published), the fact that he, Emperor of Rome, took time daily to reflect on his life rather than being swept away by whatever the day brought, makes this a useful reminder for those moments when we think we are 'too busy':

  • We are in control of how we respond to events, and when something gets in the way, we can always adapt and persevere

  • Doing the right thing because this is what we are here to do, not because of glory and recognition

  • The humility to reflect, acknowledge we are work-in-progress, aware of one’s shortcomings even at the height of success

  • Life is short

“It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.” (Marcus Aurelius)

In this second post on my WMH adventure in Poland, I want to share my thoughts on how a group of 15 people managed to climb the peak of a snowy mountain in shorts. In my first post I reflected on how our trainers empowered us; here, I reflect on how we worked as a team to make the climb possible.

Our trainers played a surprisingly small role when it came to the actual climb. Yet, they made all the difference in preparing us for it. They empowered us to work together, overcome obstacles and achieve our goal.

  • Taking responsibility for oneself first and then for helping others. We made sure we put spikes underneath our shoes first before helping others with it and once on the mountain we put on our clothes first and only then helped others with it. It's a similar logic to how safety announcements on a plane ask you to put on the oxygen mask first before helping others with it. It's no use sacrificing yourself, if it means that you cannot contribute to the journey or even become a burden on the team.

  • We depended on each other, and had a strong sense of that. If someone needed a break, we all took a break (in the cold) to remain together. The slowest of us set the pace for all of us. We were as strong as the weakest link. The goal was to reach the top together, not to be at the top the fastest way possible. Sticking together made us stronger considering the cold, which turned harsher the closer we came to the top. We shared chocolate and tea, and huddled together like penguins during breaks – a huddle of one or two does not help much. We were still organized in smaller teams of four: much of the way we would walk together and support each other; but this closer collaboration in the small teams did not hinder us from helping people from other teams.

  • We were in the sweet spot were the magnitude of the challenge was matched by our competence and confidence. This forged us together. I believe most of us had this sense of how ridiculously hard the challenge seemed, how much we all needed to go beyond what we were comfortable with. But we also had a taste of the challenge a few days before when we did a practice walk, and we knew we could make it. We had the skills dealing with the cold, and having applied them before gave us confidence. And yet climbing the mountain remained a stretch.

  • We all were role-models to each other. Turning around and seeing how the team marched forward with iced snow gathering on the left side of people's faces, arms, legs inspired me to move forward as well and, in turn, perhaps it inspired the person before me. Seeing others help people put on their spikes, even though their fingers were stiff from the cold, inspired me to do the same.

  • We had a shared purpose but attached a personal meaning to it. We all wanted to climb the mountain, grow from it mentally, help each other and have a good time. We all shared that. But what this meant was probably different from one person to the next, filtered through one's life experiences, fears, limiting beliefs, hopes. I believe we were all prepared for the climb, not just having the right mindset and skillset for the climb, or knowing the overall goal but also having a personal reason why to do it, what the climb meant for each of us personally.

This quote really hit it home for me:

"It's not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves." Sir Edmund Hillary

We did much more that day than climb a mountain in shorts. Individually and as a team, the challenge was not so much the task before us. The challenge was how to adopt the right skill-set and mindset - and doing so as part of a team.

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