Friday, June 10, 2011
The Humbling Genius of Dr. Ervin Laszlo
Today he is the holder of the highest degree of the Sorbonne (the State Doctorate), four honorary Ph.D.s and numerous awards and distinctions, including the 2001 Goi Peace Award (the Japanese Peace Prize) and the 2005 Assisi Mandir of Peace Prize. He has authored or contributed to more than 80 books and is a two-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee. A former professor of philosophy, systems theory, and futures studies in the U.S., Europe, and the Far East, Laszlo is founder and president of an international think tank (the Club of Budapest), as well as the General Evolution Research Group.
Now, he has elected to tell his story. But not as a remote personality at a podium, or a stranger in our midst. Laslo has penned "Simply Genius: And Other Tales from My Life" in the manner of an old friend sitting on our couch, a cup of lemon tea in his hand, saying, "Let me tell you where I've been the last seventy-nine years." And that in and of itself lends insight to the uncommon genius of Ervin Laszlo.
Laszlo's father was a shoe manufacturer - his mother played the piano. At age nine, Laszlo performed his first concert with the Budapest Symphony Orchestra. By age fifty-two, he participated in clandestine meetings behind the Iron Curtain to explore if it might be possible to identify an evolutionary path toward a better world should mankind destroy this one. Where many see a world filled with degradation, polarization, and disaster, Laszlo sees the possibilities of navigating our future toward humanism, ethics, and global sustainability.
Dr. Laszlo's Web Site
A) I never realized it, certainly not as a child. I always thought of myself as "one of the boys" - playing soccer in the summer, ice hockey in the winter and bicycling all year 'round. I enjoyed listening to music - loved the phonograph I got for my 10th birthday and avidly collected the large and scratchy 78 rpm disks I would listen to over and over. My mother played the piano for me every morning and then I played the same pieces in turn - it was great fun. Then I went on with my life - a boy's life, like any other. That I also performed on the piano for others was just more fun. Great fun, in fact.
Q) What prompted you to write your story now?
A) Actually, friends and publishers prompted me, but I didn't want to do it. I said I am not interested in looking back, just forward - what has been, has been. But finally I agreed to write down the anecdote I would come up with when journalists would ask, "how did you shift from being a concert pianist to being an academic - a philosopher?" That is quite a story, and since I have told it quite a few times, I just sat down and wrote it out. It only took a few hours. Then my friends came back saying fine, but can you add how you met and married the Finnish girl who became your wife? That was another question I was often asked and I got used to giving an answer to it. So that took another half-day. To make one long story into several short stories, within three weeks I had a dozen "short-stories" on my laptop. And I began to enjoy myself. It was fun going back over the years and living myself into bygone and I thought long-forgotten times. They were as vivid as ever. For a day I would be an eighteen year old growing up and having romantic adventures in New York, then a thirty year old in Switzerland timorously seeing if he could make it as a budding scientist and philosopher. Or a fifty-five year old becoming an international civil servant and being privy to some of the backstage discussions at the UN that would shape the world (or so I thought). And so it went, until I had all twenty-two stories in hand and said, now basta - that's enough. I added some recollections of how I reconnected with my hometown Budapest over the years, and the book was born.
A) I have been called many things (though being a fascist and a one-world government advocate is frankly ridiculous) and I never really minded it - I remember Gandhi saying that when you innovate first you will be ignored, then denigrated, and then (with luck and perseverance) your ideas will be embraced as if we would have known them all along. Best is to get past the phase of being ignored. Fine then to become accepted even without being recognized for what one is accepted for. The main thing is to get the ideas across - that's what I had always wanted.
Q) Of all your accomplishments, professionally and personally, which is the one that continues to warm your heart?
A) What I most want and have always hoped for and appreciated is having loving people around me: my immediate family and close friends. I have that privilege, though I don't feel that I really deserve it. Perhaps I have been lucky. In any case, I thank my lucky stars for that.
Q) Throughout your life, it is music that seems to be the blood in your veins that fuels your passion, the drive to pursue your intuition, and your love of wisdom. Should all of us seek to identify a passion beyond the rote of routine?
A) I should say, yes, absolutely. Living for something is what makes life worth living. Having a vision, no matter how pedestrian or how pie in the sky. The ultimate hobby, the ultimate satisfaction, is to do something that you think is worthwhile. For me a day when I pursued my vision-hobby is a day well spent. Otherwise it seems like a day pretty well wasted.
Q) What message do you hope to leave with your readers?