Self-help books have never interested me. Along with architecture hardcovers and inspirational booklets, they constitute a part of the bookstore I very rarely wander in, and only then in passing. So what am I doing, reviewing The Art of Possibility? Amazon.com lists this book under Business & Investing and Health, Mind & Body. In the first sentence, the authors declare, “This is a how-to book of an unusual kind.” And it is. The book invites readers to take a leap into possibility. It teaches us how to approach reality through a different set of frameworks from those that life has hammered into us. It proposes a kind of thinking that allows us to broaden our horizons far beyond what we had first imagined possible.
Knowing me, I would have never considered reading this book. But then Albert suggested it to me, after seeing it on our former philosophy professor’s blog and reading it himself. Anton Sevilla’s required readings in 2006 included The Art of Possibility. So I said, mostly out of respect for him, Fine, let’s give it a try.
The world’s scarcity sets our limits, says the pragmatist. It’s a box we can never get out of. To this the book responds, Draw a bigger shape. Essentially, this is what the two Zanders do in this book: show us different shapes. The human mind is a marvelous thing. With it, we can reconstruct our view of the world and live in a multitude of ways. The Art of Possibility, in particular, espouses a life philosophy of a positive, humanist kind.
At its best, this book inspires. With my allergy to self-help, I was surprised to find myself repeating the book’s catchphrases in times of difficulty. I would say, “It’s All Invented” or remind myself about “Giving an A.” It was a happy experience, actually applying what I had read to my life. Which is why it’s ironic how, at its worst, the book strikes me as too abstract. Sometimes I would find its words passing over my head without me having ingested anything, and feel too lazy to go over the chapter again. Mostly I just plowed through the book, although there were times when I felt like my mind was truly being opened. I appreciate everything I picked up from this book, but my recommendation ends there. It hasn’t convinced me to browse the self-help section anytime soon.
Indeed, all of life comes to us in narrative form; it’s a story we tell.
‘I’m so sorry for you; your lives have been so easy. You can’t play great music unless your heart’s been broken.’
‘Things change when you care enough to grab whatever you love, and give it everything.’
…while our willingness to distinguish good and evil may be one of our most enhancing attributes, it is important to realize that ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are categories we impose on the world—they are not of the world itself.
We don’t have to restrict ourselves, and we don’t have to compromise. With our inventive powers, we can be passionately for each other and for the whole living world around us. We need never name a human being as the enemy.