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3 Principles for Thriving in the 21st Century
Insights from a Conversation with JP Siou: Exploring Mental Fortitude through the Spartan Death Race
There is no definitive guidebook on how to navigate life as a human being, and even if such a book existed, it would quickly become outdated due to the ever-shifting nature of our environment. A century ago, automobiles and airplanes were groundbreaking inventions. Today, the focus has shifted to self-driving cars, with numerous safety features incorporated into planes. Two decades ago, the internet revolutionized our connectivity. Presently, the discussions revolve around AI, space travel, and even billionaires engaging in unusual competitions.
In light of this constant flux, the question arises: How do we navigate these ever-changing waters? Are there fundamental principles that can serve as our compass in the 21st century? Drawing from my recent conversation with JP Siou, I have identified three basic principles for effectively navigating the challenges of our time:
1. Learn History
The old adage "those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it" is something most people have heard. It can appear cliché and seemingly irrelevant in a world where we gauge intelligence based on cellphone usage. After all, if my grandparents can't operate an iPad, why do I need to bother with history? On the other hand, when we do reflect on history, it's often accompanied by a sense of condemnation. We believe that the people preceding us, who were involved in World War I or World War II, must have been less intelligent than us. However, a glance at the current state of affairs—such as the Uyghurs in China, the war in Ukraine, the burning of the Amazon forest, and political divisions—reveals that we are not so dissimilar from our ancestors and the challenges they confronted.
During my conversation with JP Siou, one significant insight emerged: it can be challenging to see the individual trees amidst the vast forest. We often discuss the importance of mindfulness, gratitude, and acknowledging our privileges, but it's more intricate than that. To truly comprehend what we have today, we must recall our origins as hunters and gatherers. We need to remember that, at one point, every meal was not guaranteed, healthcare was not considered a right, and survival was the primary objective of most civilizations until relatively recently. Adopting the mindset that we are beneficiaries of the efforts and sacrifices of our ancestors is a perspective we seldom hear. To remain humble and grateful, we must look back into history to recognize the journey that has brought us to this point and strive to build upon the legacy they left behind.
2. Physical Exercise is also Mental Building Mental Toughness
We are all aware that the quality of life has significantly improved in recent years. In today's age, acquiring knowledge is just a click away through YouTube videos and online tutorials, enabling us to expand our understanding almost instantly. Likewise, when faced with health issues, we have access to medical professionals who can provide assistance. If we seek further education, numerous institutions are readily available. And for those interested in staying fit, various exercise programs cater to our needs. Where there are challenges, there are solutions.
However, amidst these conveniences, there exists a potential drawback: the risk of not developing mental toughness. If everything comes easily to us, we may never experience the satisfaction of overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles. The story of David and Goliath exemplifies the triumph of an underdog facing an unbeatable opponent. In this current era of political division, hope and optimism seem scarce, with no apparent right answer in sight.
This is where the development of mental toughness becomes crucial. But how can we cultivate it in a world where food, groceries, and new shows are delivered to our doorstep 24/7, 365 days a year? Engaging in physical exercise is an effective method, as it immediately exposes our mental limitations. Suppose I were to suggest that you embark on a 10k run right now. You might come up with reasons why it's impossible: a hectic schedule, family commitments, sore legs, aching back, and so on. Even before starting the run, your mind begins to play tricks on you. Then, as you commence, you impose mental restrictions on yourself. "I'll begin with a light jog," you might say, not wanting to risk injury. Afterward, you might reward yourself with ice cream, thinking you've earned it. The mental game we play during physical exertion reveals our true mindset and inner strength.
This is why I find JP Siou so intriguing. He voluntarily undertakes the incredibly grueling Spartan Death Race, pushing his mental fortitude to its limits. The race spans potentially three days of non-stop exertion. Why does he subject himself to such a challenge? To test the resilience of his mind, to discover if he's up for the arduous task, and to learn who he truly is in times of adversity.
Now, undertaking a Death Race is not a prerequisite to gain insight into facing difficult situations, but Siou serves as a reminder to us all that we are capable of more than we believe if we push ourselves to the limits.
3. Find Out Who You Are During Tough Times
I know many people are not religious anymore, but I’m a firm believer that there are lessons within religious stories that are useful even for an atheist. The flood story is one such example. Who are you when the floods come? For example, in the lower mainland we had the 2021 Atmospheric River which impacted our whole province in different ways. Through this we saw people stocking up on food and essentials and some acting selfishly. In contrast, we saw communities come together, individuals come out in the middle of the night to sandbag our dykes, and farmers work together to try to save their animals or at least treat them humanely. There were individuals who acted on their most selfish instincts, and people who acted for the benefit of others and opened their doors to strangers.
As philosophy departments struggle across post-secondary campuses, its useful to remember that having a philosophy of right and wrong, good and bad, are key to developing a strong moral character but also shapes our social fabric. Some may wish for no floods, no danger, no risk but it is only through these forms of adversity that we find out who we truly are. You don’t really know who your friends are, until you’re down and out. Who sticks around and who leaves you high and dry?
Personally, I’ve always taken the most from the iconic Peter Parker. In a moment of moral weakness, he failed to act justly. As an unintended consequence, he lost his Uncle Ben. It’s easy to think that one moral failing is separate
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