What I Learned From Death

A great man died last week. His name was Sir Terry Pratchett, and he was my favorite author. The man inspired me to start writing and not worry about following the style of others. He understands people better than anyone else I’ve ever come across.

He was also, in my completely unbiased opinion, the greatest philosopher of our age.

A British satirical author who wrote a bestselling fantasy series, many would look at his whimsical covers and dismiss what’s inside as fluff. And that would be a critical error– I’ve learned more about human nature between those pages than from anything else.

He sees people as we should be seen, and his words would help heal the rifts in our society if we would only heed them. He faces our ugliest reflection in the mirror and emerges undaunted, with a hilarious little anecdote to top it all off. His impact on this world is immeasurable. To me, he is a great Influencer, and his lessons transcend personal and professional to apply to all walks of life.

What can we learn from Terry? It’s nearly impossible to boil it down, as his words range from hilarious to poignant to provocative to devastating. Although he was far too clever to implicate anyone or anything by name, he used fantasy as a backdrop to highlight real-world problems, cultures and ways we’re our own worst enemy.

His mind-bogglingly brilliant book The Hogfather is a loving, brutal treatise on who we are and who we can become. The titular namesake is essentially a more primitive Santa Claus who explores the not always rosy power of humanity, and society without any sugarcoating.

On Education: “Getting an education was a bit like a communicable sexual disease. It made you unsuitable for a lot of jobs and then you had the urge to pass it on.”

On Fairy Tales, and How They Should Really Be Read: “And then Jack chopped down what was the world’s last beanstalk, adding murder and ecological terrorism to the theft, enticement, and trespass charges already mentioned, and all the giant’s children didn’t have a daddy anymore. But he got away with it and lived happily ever after, without so much as a guilty twinge about what he had done…which proves that you can be excused for just about anything if you are a hero, because no one asks inconvenient questions.”

On our Pop Culture Portrayal of Kids: “Real children do not go hoppity skip unless they are on drugs.”

On Man vs. Machine: “Real stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time.” 

On Changing the World: “The phrase ‘Someone ought to do something’ was not, by itself, a helpful one. People who used it never added the rider ‘and that someone is me’.” 

On the Power of Belief: (excerpt, a conversation between Death and his granddaughter)

“All right,” said Susan. “I’m not stupid. You’re saying humans need… fantasies to make life bearable.”

REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.

“Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little—”

YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.

“So we can believe the big ones?”

YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.

“They’re not the same at all!”

YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THENSHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET—Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME…SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.

“Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what’s the point—”

MY POINT EXACTLY.”

So why am I sharing it here, on this forum? Believe me, I thought long and hard about it. I have other accounts, other social media sites that on the surface seem more suitable. But really, I think that’s the whole point.

Dig beneath the surface. Don’t go through life basing everything on assumptions, because then you’ll lose. Rose-colored glasses are equally as dangerous as tunnel vision.

Embrace the unknown, open your arms to the unusual. Don’t just stay in the herd when you see another break away from the pack. Find the humor in life, but don’t shy away from the bad.

True evolution lies in a willingness to look at our own flaws and change. This is as true of leaders, CEOs, celebrities, influencers and all the big guns as it is of any Average Joe.

Saying “be the change you wan’t to see in the world” isn’t enough if you’re not willing to stray outside your comfort zone. So listen to Terry, look in an unexpected direction, and you may find your own muse.

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